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Cureus shockingly does the right thing and retracts an antivax review about COVID-19 vaccines

A misinformation-laden review article in Cureus by prominent antivax activists that called for a moratorium on COVID vaccination has been retracted. What took so long, and how could such a paper been published in the peer-reviewed literature in the first place?

Three weeks ago, I deconstructed an awful antivax “review” of “lessons learned” whose co-authors included some of the most bonkers conspiracy-minded antivaxxers who have risen to prominence since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The paper, published in Cureus, a Springer Nature open access journal with a rather odd open-access publishing model that has been the home to bad COVID-19 takes before, and co0authored by the likes of Steve Kirsch, Jessica Rose, Peter McCullough, Stephanie Seneff (!), and three people of whom I had never heard, M. Nathaniel Mead, Russ Wolfinger, and Kris Denhaerynck, was, as its most prominent antivax co-authors might have tipped you off to, a veritable “greatest hits” of COVID-19 antivax tropes, including bogus “reanalyses” of the Pfizer clinical trial data, misrepresentation of increases in all-cause mortality as being due to the mRNA vaccines rather than COVID-19 itself and the disruptions in society during the pandemic, misleading claims about the unblinding of the randomized controlled clinical trials after it had become apparent that the vaccines worked, and many more. When I saw the paper, I wondered how on earth such a misinformation- and disinformation-laden manuscript could have passed peer review and mocked the claims of rigorous peer-review made by the journal.

Apparently, I was not alone, because very early this morning I saw that one of the co-authors, tech bro turned rabid antivaxxer Steve Kirsch, had posted an article to his Substack entitled Our paper critical of the COVID vaccines will be retracted by Cureus! He also added:

We thought the mainstream medical journals would finally publish the truth. But we were wrong. Our paper calling for a vax moratorium will be retracted. Please download it ASAP.

Silly Mr. Kirsch. Retracted papers are generally still downloadable after retraction. It’s just that they have a large watermark across them, a set of scarlet letters if you will, saying RETRACTED, plus a link to a retraction notice explaining the reasons for the retraction. I will admit that these retraction notices are often frustratingly vague, as the one announcing the retraction of Mark Skidmore‘s awful paper was, but they are there. Either Mr. Kirsch is too ignorant to know this, or he wants his followers to download the “unsullied” PDF of the paper as soon as possible, so that the scarlet letter is not seen. Actually, I’m sure he knows, as the email from the editors that he published on his blog states this explicitly:

Please let me know by 23 February whether you agree or disagree with this retraction, as this will be noted in the retraction notice. Retraction of the article means that we will publish the retraction notice as a separate publication which will bidirectionally link to your article. The article itself will be clearly marked as retracted. 

In any event, my reaction to the retraction—hey, that rhymes—is simple: What took Cureus so long, and why are the editors giving these antivax cranks until Friday to retract? I know, I know, the guidelines require giving the authors a chance to say whether they agree with the retraction or not and state such, their answers to be included in the retraction notice, which is included near the end of the email:

In line with the COPE retraction guidelines, the Editors have therefore decided to retract your article. The journal will publish the following retraction notice: 

The Editors-in-Chief have retracted this article. The following publication concerns were raised regarding a number of claims made in this article. Upon further review, the Editors-in-Chief found that the conclusions of this narrative review are considered to be unreliable due to the validity of some of the cited references that support the conclusions and a misrepresentation of the cited references and available data.

Remember what I said about retraction notices and how vague they often are? This one by Cureus is a prime example. It’s accurate, as far as it goes, but. it leaves out so much information, as you will see.

As you might expect, Mr. Kirsch tells a one-sided tale of woe, “cancellation,” and “persecution” by scientific publishing:

It doesn’t do any good to show them these reasons are all bogus. The laundry list of items is simply a placeholder to make it look like the journal is following the science. 

Nothing we can say on appeal will make any difference. 

The decision was made to retract the paper and facts don’t matter. It’s about supporting the narrative. When they write “in our view can’t be remedied with a correction” it means “don’t even bother arguing with us, your paper is retracted.”

No, it means that you and your antivax colleagues wrote a paper so bad, so obviously full of antivax disinformation, that even the editors of Cureus couldn’t defend its publication in their journal. Seriously, just look at Cureus and its contents. It takes a lot for this journal’s editors to retract a paper. It has to be really, really, really bad.

Let’s look at the rest of the email, which Mr. Kirsch characteristically can’t resist posting in full and which lists the editors’ reasons:

The journal was recently made aware of several concerns regarding the validity of the work and, upon conducting an internal review, the journal has decided to retract your article. Upon further review, we have identified a significant number of concerns with your article that in our view can’t be remedied with a correction. The concerns include, but are not limited to: 

  1. We find that the article is misrepresenting all-cause mortality data
  2. We find that the article appears to be misrepresenting VAERs data
  3. The article states that the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine saved two lives and caused 27 deaths per 100,000 vaccinations, and the Moderna vaccine saved 3.9 lives and caused 10.8 deaths per 100,000 vaccinations, though there does not appear to be convincing evidence for this claim. 
  4. Incorrect claim: Vaccines are gene therapy products.
  5. The article states that vaccines are contaminated with high levels of DNA. Upon review we found that the cited references are not sufficient to support these claims. 
  6. The article states that SV40 promoter can cause cancer because SV40 virus can cause cancer in some organisms and inconclusively in humans. However, we find that this is misrepresenting the cited study (Li, S., MacLaughlin, F., Fewell, J. et al.Muscle-specific enhancement of gene expression by incorporation of SV40 enhancer in the expression plasmid. Gene Ther 8, 494–497 (2001). 
  7. The article states that mRNA COVID-19 vaccines did not undergo adequate safety and efficacy testing, which the journal considers to be incorrect
  8. The article incorrectly states that spike proteins produced by COVID-19 vaccination linger in the body and cause adverse effects.

Given the concerns with your article, we find that the stated findings in this narrative review are to be considered unreliable, and are not sufficiently supported either by the cited research in the article itself or by other research. In line with the COPE retraction guidelines, the Editors have therefore decided to retract your article. 

And you know what? The article, as I described, did misrepresent data from the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) database. It did misrepresent all-cause mortality. It did falsely claim that spike proteins from the vaccine linger in the body and cause illness and death. It did make the false claim that the vaccines were not adequately safety tested. It did spin a conspiracy narrative around the false claim that there is massive DNA contamination in the vaccines based on the bad science peddled by Kevin McKernan. They did falsely claim that SV40 promoter sequences in minute quantities of DNA fragments left in the Pfizer vaccine—the Moderna vaccine does not use an SV40 promoter sequence in its plasmid, a bit of trivia that antivaxxers frequently fail to mention—can integrate in the genome and cause cancer. (It can’t.) All of these statements are true, and they don’t even cover everything that was wrong with the paper!

And what’s the best that Mr. Kirsch can come up with? Seriously, his response is some pathetic conspiracy mongering bullshit even by his already pathetic conspiracy mongering standards:

According to the journal, the COVID vaccines were adequately tested, even though we have multiple whistleblowers who will testify in a court of law that the data in the COVID trial data were fabricated! 

And people who were seriously injured in the trials, like 13-year-old Maddie de Garay who can no longer walk, are ignored by the journals as if they do not exist. 

Their data is excluded from the trial results which is a criminal offense. But Pfizer won’t go to jail because the DOJ will never press charges. And the medical journals will go along with the narrative and not allow any of these case histories to be published.

I’ve briefly discussed the tragic case of Maddie de Garay before in the context of debunking antivax nonsense from Peter Gøtzsche. Specifically, I noted that the family has never presented any evidence that Maddie was diagnosed as harmed by a COVID-19 vaccine and that her story has been widely used in advertising by an antivaccine group run by Steve Kirsch. As is often the case, reading what advocates write about Maddie’s case does not allow even a good guess as to whether a claim of causation from the vaccine is plausible, and the information available is consistent with a diagnosis of functional disorder, not vaccine injury. As for the claims that clinical trial data from Pfizer or Moderna have been fabricated, antivaxxers have never presented anything resembling credible evidence to support such charges.

Of course, Mr. Kirsch being Mr. Kirsch, namely a “debate me, bro,” he can’t resist adding a lament that “no one will debate us”:

There will be no public debates on whether the paper should be retracted because nobody is going to challenge us in a public debate. They can’t. They’d lose. 

That’s the way science works: when a journal decides to retract your paper, there is no discussion and no appeal. The journal is always right. No public discussions. 

The medical journals get to decide what is true and what is not and evidence doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is their perception of reality.

There will be no debates. They have spoken.

I’ve written about Mr. Kirsch’s profoundly unserious “challenges” to scientists to “debate” him and/or whatever handpicked crew of antivax cranks that he can recruit. They are, as challenges from cranks to “debate” have always been, merely a strategy to appear on the same “stage” (or in the same venue) as real experts in order to project the false appearance that there is an actual scientific controversy, rather than a manufactroversy; that, and to give them the opportunity to pontificate, Gish gallop, and firehose misinformation in such a torrent that even scientists and debaters familiar with these techniques will have difficulty countering them. Also, Mr. Kirsch has the self-control of a hamster on meth, which is why, characteristically (and unlike his co-authors, at least as of this writing), he couldn’t resist publishing the email from the editors almost as soon as he got it. This will not endear him to the editors of any journal in which he might someday wish to publish in the future.

His other co-author has yet to mention the retraction, as far as I can tell. As of yesterday afternoon, this was all I could see:

The email was dated February 16; so Dr. McCullough surely knew when he posted this that Cureus was going to retract his paper.

Another user of X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, joked as a Steve Kirsch parody account:

While I’m happy that Cureus has finally done the right thing after having made the massive mistake of publishing this antivax review in the first place, the question remains about how such an obviously awful disinformation-ridden manuscript could have gotten through peer review. I have my suspicions. One possibility that came to mind is based on how Cureus touts itself as providing “faster publication,” among other things. However, the metrics of the article show that it was submitted on November 8, 2023 and not published until January 24, 2024, a nearly two and a half month span, which is not unduly fast by the standards of many journals. (It would be useful to know if any revisions were requested, and if so how many, but that information is not included with the paper.) So undue speed doesn’t appear to be the reason for the peer review foulup.

Another, more likely, possibility is that the editor was too accommodating of requests by the authors for suggested peer reviewers. Many journals ask for suggested peer reviewers, and, of course, most authors will suggest reviewers who (1) have the relevant expertise to review the manuscript and (2) won’t be too hard on it. Journal editors are free to use one or more of these suggestions or to ignore the suggestions. One can see how a harried journal editor might be a bit lazy and just use the suggested peer reviewers and how authors might be tempted not just to pick reviewers who won’t be too hard on them but who are actually very friendly to them and believe the same things they believe about vaccines and/or who might not have the expertise to see through the misinformation in the manuscript. Any peer reviewer with actual expertise in vaccines, COVID-19, epidemiology, and the like who isn’t a raving antivaxxer would have shot this manuscript down immediately based on its obvious flaws, misrepresentations, misinformation, and disinformation. So I have to assume that what happened is that the editors sent the manuscript to antivax academics and/or academics without the expertise to spot the disinformation and misrepresentations, likely academics suggested by Dr. McCullough and/or other co-authors. Strike that. That is almost certainly what happened.

Worse, Cureus appears to have known what it was doing when it published the article. Retraction Watch just reported on this retraction and quoted John Adler Jr., editor of Cureus from a previous interview shortly after the article was published thusly:

A few days after the paper appeared, we asked John Adler Jr., the editor in chief of Cureus, if the track record of the authors concerned him. His response seemed to admit to the risk, but he also defended the journal’s vetting of the paper:

Yes I am aware that many of these authors are skeptical zealots when it comes to the dangers of vaccines. Our editorial response was extra vigilance during the peer review process with 8 different reviewers weighing in on publication or not, including a few with strong statistics knowledge. Therefore, a credible peer review process was followed and the chips fell where they may. That is all I can say. If you or other readers were to note fatal flaws in this article now that it is published, i.e. failure to accurately report financial COIs [conflicts of interest], totally erroneous statistical analysis, fake data etc. we will of course re-evaluate at any time.

Adler then took a jab at other journals:

The decision process Cureus made, contrasts sharply with Elsevier’s seeming editorial decision to just censor the article using ad hominem concerns.

It’s even worse than I thought; that is, if what Adler says is true. Eight reviewers evaluated this paper, and some supposedly had “strong statistics knowledge”? And these “reviewers” approved this paper for publication? How on earth can anyone with the requisite background knowledge have fallen for this, regardless of whether the statistics might have appeared valid or not?

Even worse, Adler seems to think that it’s a “censorship” not to publish work by antivax conspiracy mongers because they are antivax conspiracy mongers? Guess what? What Adler calls “skeptical zealots” are not, in fact, skeptics at all. They are true believers in conspiracy theories. What he dismisses as “censoring” using “ad hominem concerns,” I call having editorial and scientific standards. Hilariously, Adler’s attitude has now come back to bite him on the ass in a fashion that is most satisfying and entertaining to behold.

On the other hand, a search of Cureus for antivax authors still turns up lots of very, very bad antivax papers, for example:

All of these are (un)worthy candidates for retraction for many of the same sorts of reasons that the paper under discussion is going to be retracted. Let’s just say that Cureus has a major problem, part of which, I suspect, is due to its seeking clicks.

Whatever the reason why Cureus is so unreliable, searches for the names of specific antivax quacks bring up four articles for Dr. McCullough, three articles for Stephanie Seneff, and one for Jessica Rose, all just within the last year or so. I’d say that that’s an indication that maybe, just maybe, Mr. Adler should consider “censoring” some of these authors based on their history of extreme antivax activism and spreading misinformation and disinformation. As they say, a leopard doesn’t change his spots, and antivax “scientists” and physicians don’t generally change. Even aside from serving as means of laundering antivax conspiracy theories to make them look like peer-reviewed science, Cureus has a track record so bad on retractions that it has its own category on Retraction Watch.

Mr. Kirsch claims to want total “transparency,” and Mr. Adler says Cureus subjected the antivax manuscript to a highly rigorous peer review process; so I’ll take both of them at their word and challenge one or the other to prove what they claim. Actually, I’ll challenge Mr. Kirsch because the challenge involves the one thing that Mr. Kirsch and his co-authors can do that journal editors like Mr. Adler probably cannot. If Mr. Kirsch is willing to apply the same standards of “transparency” to himself and his co-authors that he loudly demands of Pfizer, Moderna, the CDC, the FDA, the federal government, scientists, and the medical profession, then it should be no problem for him to publish the peer review report, including the comments from all eight peer reviewers claimed by Mr. Adler, on his Substack.

I realize that it was anonymous peer review, but publishing just the peer reviewers’ comments does not compromise the anonymity of the peer reviewers. However, it would give the scientific community an idea of the quality of peer review to which Cureus editors subjected his manuscript and a chance to see whether Mr. Adler was correct. For example, overly enthusiastic praise with no errors found would be highly suggestive of an antivax fellow traveler doing the review, while actual serious critical comment might suggest that actual peer review was attempted. Moreover, Mr. Kirsch should think of it this way; he can really embarrass Mr. Adler by publishing the peer review comments. Maybe that opportunity would be enough to motivate Mr. Kirsch to publish the reviews.

Somehow, I highly doubt that Mr. Kirsch and his merry band of antivax co-authors will do this. Instead, they’ll rant about being “canceled” or “silenced,” even though their paper has according to the metrics on the Cureus website been viewed over 300,000 times and will likely be shared widely in the antivax community for months and years to come.

Come to think of it, that’s all part of the plan. Once this antivax review was published, it was too late. Its damage had already been done and will continue, regardless of whether it’s retracted or not. Indeed, retraction actually helps such articles, because then Mr. Kirsch and antivax cranks can portray the retraction as “silencing” and “persecution.” The only way to prevent that is for journals to learn that these sorts of pseudoscience-laden antivax articles must never be published in the first place in a decent peer-reviewed journal. It is a less that, I fear, journal publishers and editors will never learn.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

47 replies on “Cureus shockingly does the right thing and retracts an antivax review about COVID-19 vaccines”

A. As your last discussion suggests, in spite of what Mr. Kirsch tries to imply, “debate” doesn’t have to be oral or theatrical. Mr. Kirsch certainly has the option to debate the retraction by publishing a detailed response to the reasons you quote, which his post did not – expressly did not. As you said, he can also publish the peer review comments.

He wants a public debate? Here is his chance, and no one has to agree: he can take a stand, as you did.

B. Note that Dr. Adler did not tell us where the chips fell. I’m thinking of Wakefield’s paper for the Lancet, which, if I remember correctly, was sent to six reviewers, at least four of which were negative (I am acting of memory and will double check later – in transit now). For Al we know, some of the reviews may have been negative and an editor seeking attention still published it (looking at you, Dr. Horton).

As you said, if Mr. Kitsch publishes the reviews we will know more. I also wonder what happened there.

When the Lyons-Weiler/Paul Thomas vaccinated versus unvaccinated paper was retracted in 2021, the authors complained bitterly about the complaint being anonymous. The irony is of course the peer review is supposedly anonymous, which they are apparently okay with. But the authors said instead of retraction what should have happened in s the complainant should have written up a scholarly letter to be attached to their article with then a letter from them with their response. They claim that’s how it’s been done in the past and that the journals are singling them out because they’re anti-vaxxers. They ignore the fact that this is still done in journals, but letters from readers followed by response from authors typically happen over active debates and not fatally flawed analyzes and conflicts of interest which merit retraction. There will of course be more of the same with this newly retracted article

Kirsch is the rabid dog to McCullough’s professorial pseudointellectualism (aka bad cop/good cop fantasy).

Lyons-Weiler also moaned about his and Paul Thomas’ retraction of their “vax-unvax” paper in IJERPH. Publicly they whine “just one anonymous viewer after over 250,000 downloads” got it retracted by questioning whether unvaccinated children went to Thomas as often as vaccinated did (answer: they didn’t, and they showed it in their papaer (age matched p < 0.03 but somehow never got called on to mention it by the “peer” reviewers or IJERPH editors). But Lyons-Weiler, like Kirsch actually attempted to rebut every concern raised by the anonymous viewer on his web site (about 10 concerns, all very valid and specific); however neither he nor Thomas have had the spine to put out the back-and-forth between IJERPH and them, claiming instead the paper was simply retracted, which it was not.

I do think these journals like the clicks/downloads that papers by anti-vax zealots get them. As in hundreds of thousands of downloads which is often 10-100 times more than any other papers in their journals. Of course, it’s not scientists downloading but rather other anti-vax zealots or misguided parents being fooled by this pseudoscience (which, as you note–thanks to the speed of social media– does its damage the moment it is published, even if it is eventually retracted.

This dovetails nicely (but sadly) with a couple of RIs ago concerning Lyons-Weiler and his fake IRB. It does because eventually this dumpster fire of a “paper” that Cureus finally retracted will show up in their fake journals, approved by a fake IRB with fake peer review.

This comes as a pleasant surprise. Giving high importance to post-publication peer-review means that you have to be serious about retracting those articles that are shown to be nonsense after the review process. Going for a post-publication peer review model, but letting everything stand is a recipe for attracting the worst junk science.

However, I should give Cureus some credit for attempting to get their act together. They have moved from post-publication peer review to pre-publication review. But this is not enough. Although, when I look at their automated process for selecting peer-reviewers, I can see how easily it can be gamed. I suspect even more retractions will be in their future.

Having run into Steve Kirsch below the lines on the internet, I can’t say that I am feeling any sympathy for him for this paper being retracted. Being completely ignorant of the topic and only accepting evidence that confirms your beliefs is a sure fire way to be completely wrong.

OBVIOUSLY, I’m not Orac but I’ve seen it mentioned. Media Bias Fact Check lists it as a poor source, fake news, far right etc.

Denice, God gave you eyes and brains for a reason. The eyes are for reading, and the brains are for thinking.

Try to read that Berker article and follow the links a bit. It is a good article, I am not out there recommenting ThePeoplesVoice or some other junk.

@Kelli “Smoking gun” email just says that Baric would combin cDNA fragments. No gain of function research is inferred
@Igor Chudov Having some knowledge is useful too. Perhaps Baric was doing something like this:
CDNA fragments were combined to a full clone. This was done because genome was too long.
As for thinking try to avoid obvious propaganda tricks, like selective citation. Other emails could show his research target.
Emails should show, too, Baric soliciting funding (cost estimate for DEFUSE was 15 million), an hiring additional reseachers

Well, they are rated as far right conspiracy mongers, so I would rate them as putting politics above facts. Therefore unreliable and not worth the energy expenditure on mouse clicks.

It seems to be mostly correct. A year ago or so, Valentin Bruttel pointed out Bsmbl restriction sites makign six segments in the Sars-Cov-2 genome and here’s Ecohealth proposing to link six pieces together.

I followed this story for a while and every piece of honest evidence points to Sars-Cov-2 being a lab product.

PMC2407633 mentioned in the photo of the proposal is mentioned in this article by Ralph Baric and others:

Baric ==> “Using a panel of contiguous cDNAs that span the entire genome, we have assembled a full-length cDNA of the SARS-CoV Urbani strain, and have rescued molecularly cloned SARS viruses (infectious clone SARS-CoV) that contained the expected marker mutations inserted into the component clones. Recombinant viruses replicated as efficiently as WT virus and both were inhibited by treatment with the cysteine proteinase inhibitor (2S,3S)-transepoxysuccinyl-L-leucylamido-3-methylbutane ethyl ester. In addition, subgenomic transcripts were initiated from the consensus sequence ACGAAC in both the WT and infectious clone SARS-CoV. Availability of a SARS-CoV full-length cDNA provides a template for manipulation of the viral genome, allowing for the rapid and rational development and testing of candidate vaccines and therapeutics against this important human pathogen.”

Now imagine a vaccine pitch like “oh, sorry, we accidentally released a lab-designed virus, but do not worry, we have a vaccine ready to go for it, which you will be required to take to keep your job”

This is complete and utter nonsense. It is “join the imaginary dots” level crazy.

The lab-leak hypotheses fail to explain key aspects of the start of the SAES-CoV-2 pandemic. Why were their two related, but separate, lineages that appeared roughly 10 days apart in humans? Why could the same two lineages be found at separate, not overlapping, locations at the Wuhan wet market? Why were they found on cages and stalls that had hosted wild animals for sale? Why were the overwhelming majority of the early cases for both lineages located around the wet market, but none occurred near the WIV or locations associated with the WIV?

How dies a grant proposal that was not funded become “smoking gun” level evidence of something happening?

How dies a grant proposal that was not funded become “smoking gun” level evidence of something happening?

Indeed. I forgot that the grant proposal was never funded. 😂

A 2018 proposal that “was not funded” by one potential funder described and aimed to create the virus that appeared in 2019.

Should we conclude that just because one agency did not fund it, it was not implemented?

How can an unexpected “natural virus” be described in a proposal to create it? Why would a “natural virus” appear in the city where the institute, designated to work on it in the proposal, is located?

Shouldn’t we ask for an investigation of who funded it?

As for “lineages”, please remember that they constantly appear due to natural mutations, and Sars-Cov-2 may have circulated for some time prior to Dec 2019. Also, any Sars-Cov-2 infection is a “swarm” of similar, but not necessarily RNA-identical virions.

Our of respect for the owner of this blog, I do not want to overpost on this topic.

The most important new thing in that Becker News article discusses Bsmbl restriction sites, an artifact of lab assembly work. Valentin Bruttel, in 2022, prior to the FOIA disclosures, also described these six Bsmbl restriction sites.

Again, I want to remind you that God gave you eyes and brains for a reason. Eyes are for reading, and brains are for thinking.

I remember that paper. Alex Washburne is one of the authors, and he’s a raging “lab leak” conspiracy theorist, and the paper was crap then. It’s still crap.

Worse, he’s associated with the Brownstone Institute, a red flag for pseudoscience on COVID-19 if ever there was one.

Seriously, dude. I did my PhD on a project involving a lot of molecular biology and got funded for NIH and other grants for projects involving a lot of molecular biology. You’re in way over your head here. There’s a reason why that preprint you’ve cited was never apparently published in the peer-reviewed literature. It’s crap. Molecular biologists likely tore it apart. It’s a (slightly) more sophisticated version of the crap that James Lyons-Weiler was claiming about plasmid sequences and restriction sites in the SARS-CoV-2 genome published in late January 2020.

Why is it that people without expertise in the relevant sciences seem to think that they know what they are talking about better than actual scientists?

So use your brains. Is there any eidence that DEEFUSE proposal was funded ? Any reserach papers related to it ? Who is the man ?
Why do you think tha Bsmbl restrrictionn site is an laboratory artifact ? An ad:
Restriction site is the sequence CGTCTC. Do you think this sequence never exist in nature ? As I said use your brains.

As I wrote above, this is join the imaginary dots level of stupidity.

Should we conclude that just because one agency did not fund it, it was not implemented?

So who funded it then? Where is the evidence that it was ever implemented.

How can an unexpected “natural virus” be described in a proposal to create it?

So when I was sitting in Monsanto’s offices in 1993 and they were telling me in great detail why glyphosate resistant weeds would never evolve and I pointed out some mechanisms whereby it would be possible for glyphosate resistance to evolve – including what happened to be the explanation for the first example of a weed with resistance that occurred in 1996, this was some sort of necromancy? Experts in disciplines know a huge amount of background about similar systems that often allow them to predict new phenomena. It is not like SARS-CoV-2 was unexpected, after all we had already seen SARS and MERS. It was clear that other viruses in this group would spillover into humans.

Why would a “natural virus” appear in the city where the institute, designated to work on it in the proposal, is located?

The WIV has developed expertise in coronaviruses, because it is close to the location where that original SARS came from. Having had one well recorded spillover event in China, it is vital for China to develop expertise in these viruses.

As for “lineages”, please remember that they constantly appear due to natural mutations, and Sars-Cov-2 may have circulated for some time prior to Dec 2019.

These two lineages were related, but not in the sense that one had evolved from the other. Where is the evidence that the virus was circulating prior to December 2019? Given how deadly SARS-COV-2 was when first identified, where are all the dead bodies that are evidence of this circulation well before December 2019? Where are the gene sequences?

The most important new thing in that Becker News article discusses Bsmbl restriction sites

BsmBl has been known for more than 2 decades and has been used for cutting gene sequences for all of that time. I may well have some of the enzyme in my lab. What would we use this enzyme for if sequences it could cut did not occur naturally?

In addition, the idea of restriction enzyme is to cut long DNA into pieces for analysis. If restriction site is not found in natural DNA, the enzyme would be useless.
To see examples of this do Google Scholar Search for digested Bsmbl.
You just believe someone’s claim. Is this thinking ?

Why would a “natural virus” appear in the city where the institute, designated to work on it in the proposal, is located?

You mean, a city that also happens to have a wet market with lots of live animals and very little restriction of traffic in and out of said market? Why would you NOT expect a natural virus to “appear” (as in, jump from animals to humans) in such a city?

@Raging Bee,
It’s a spurious coincidence. As discussed on TWiV, it actually takes a very large population to get a zoonotic crossover really going. Note the relatively modest number of cases in December 2019.

The virus needs several cycles of replication for exponential growth to take off and to create a possibility for an infected person to carry it distant locations. In a smaller city (say 10-50K), the virus is more likely to exhaust available hosts and die off.

And 8 of the 10 largest cities in China have a major virology laboratory.

Igor, I’d like you to summarize, in your own words, what that quotation means. I don’t think you can. I think you think it sounds scary and that that’s enough for you.

I’m not an expert, and I welcome the input of people who are if I’ve gotten this wrong. But from what I can read of it, it looks to me like it’s basically saying “we have a copy of genome of the virus that we can use to start looking for ways to make vaccines and treatments to fight the virus”. Hmm, since it’s about SARS that makes it seem like this would be rather old, actually… I wonder what year it’s from. Oh look at that. 2003. And you’re using it as support for the claims of a lab leak in late 2019. lol.

In any case, that would appear to be roughly how we got our mRNA vaccines. They took the genetic sequence from the virus that encoded for the spike protein, modified it to make it a better vaccine component, and then synthesized a lot of it and then gave it a lipid coating so it could get into our cells to do its job. They “manipulated the viral genome” in order to get an mRNA sequence that coded for the desired antigen. Hardly the slam dunk evidence of creating a super disease that you desperately wish, now is it?

“Now imagine a vaccine pitch”

I can’t — I’m too busy trying to imagine that you understand the paragraph you copy/pasted that starts with “Baric ==>” — and there’s no scenario that comes to mind in which you do understand it.

Read what you paste:
have rescued molecularly cloned SARS viruses (infectious clone SARS-CoV) that contained the expected marker mutations inserted into the component clones.
There were marker mutations inserted, it was not a wild virus-.

I glanced through it, and what I saw set my skeptical antenna a-twitching, as our host would say. I don’t have the in depth scientific knowledge to analyze the claims that are made, but Orac has already responded to many of them. However I know dishonest rhetoric when I see it.

First off, while the story is supposed to be about the documents revealed in a freedom of information request, it keeps falling back to other sources, including the right wing tabloid The Daily Mail. At one point it says that three scientists made a claim about restriction enzymes being able to chop the virus up into several pieces in a way that was supposedly impossible to happen in nature. Who are these scientists? The article doesn’t feel the need to say. It provides no citation for that claim at all. The only relevance this claim even has to the FOI documents is that they include an order for one of the restriction enzymes. I’m going to offer the wild guess that these enzymes are commonly used and that it should be expected for people doing work in genetics to use it. This is the pattern with this article, it makes insinuations everywhere but they’re poorly sourced at best, and never amount to a smoking gun as far as I can see. It’s preaching to the choir, essentially.

Despite this dearth of citations, the author does feel the need, at one point, to list the supposed yearly income of one of the scientists they are making accusations about. This has nothing to do with the facts, of course, and is merely an attempt to generate an emotional response from the already emotionally primed anti-vax readers. Not a good sign.

Again, the story is supposed to be about the FOI request. Why then include the claim that scientists who initially claimed that the virus was engineered later changed their tune because they received research grants? If the FOI documents were so strong, why would they need to do this? The documents were just a prop, an excuse for the author to rehash tired conspiracy stories.

They do offer brief quotations, but they never support the claims being made about them. And then sometimes the author simply avoids quoting the documents at all and merely makes unsupported claims about what’s contained within them, leaving the reader to go through all 1,400+ pages of documents to try to guess at the source of the claim. Again, not a good sign.

If you want to see what Orac has to say about it, use the search bar on this blog. I used it to see if he’s covered the claims about “furin cleavage sites”, and he has touched upon that multiple times. He said that while those features are uncommon, they are found in several coronoviruses, so it’s hardly evidence of lab engineering.

I came across a ‘FOI’ post in my Facebook news feed. Some covid denier wrote to local hospital at height of the lockdowns, asking how many covid deaths did they have over the whole period. ‘None’ they replied, he posted it on Facebook, smoking gun evidence. However, he neglected to state said hospital was a mental health unit, with no facilities for covid patients.

Is the person stupid, to not be able to distinguis a mental health unit from an infectous diseases unit, or just not interested?

I think he knew, he was only after a response of none. Covid deniers and antivaxxers I know personally like to do one thing. Lie.

I didn’t see any actual quotes from the DEFUSE proposal. That’s a red flag. And a quick search on “Ecohealth Defuse” popped up an extended discussion of the claim on the EcoHealth Alliance web page. It turns out the proposal was NEVER funded!

So it’s more smoke and mirrors than a smoking gun. Even if funded, they presented no evidence that a virus with a very close match to one of the original lineages existed in the WIV lab prior to the outbreak.

So it’s more smoke and mirrors

In this case with a distinct lack of mirrors.

As I pointed out to Igor, this is join the imaginary dots level crazy.

US Right to Know have made a cottage industry out of making FOI requests and then quote mining them for phrases that sound bad. It is a not very subtle form of character assassination. If the US RTK make a claim, it is almost certainly not true. The US RTK and the Far Right are strange bedfellows, but that seems to be what the COVID pandemic did, closed the political Mobius strip.

“It turns out the proposal was NEVER funded!”

To emphasise Igor’s scientific credentials, he is so convinced of his theory that he has previously stated that the proposal MUST have been funded because SC2 WAS made in a lab. That’s the rigorous application of circular reasoning which, as everyone knows, is the hallmark of all great scientific minds.

I recognize from a brief skim that there’s nothing new there and no “smoking gun.” It’s all just a “lab leak” conspiracy theory and pseudoscience greatest hits.

I didn’t feel quite up to reading and thinking last night so I am glad that others responded to Igor.

First of all, I didn’t see anything new in that quasi-artful pastiche of scaremongering. I know that Orac has addressed claims like these many times over the years since 2020 and especially recall the furin cleavage issue. Although I was too tired to look up much, I do remember an RI post on 08/08, I forget which year, that discussed why an engineered virus is rather unlikely.

Second, I read/ hear material like that every single day and am easily able to spot the tells which regulars revealed above in their comments.

As I’ve noted too many times to count, alties/ anti-vaxxers seek out complex, recent and less generally known material in order to create frightening scenarios for followers who know even less than they do. These rapidly assembled conspiracy theories display a foreboding tone as their perpetrator carefully instructs his audience to listen and learn. As if.

Finally, if I am alerted to new information about Covid etc, I take it seriously when it comes from a reliable source: since I read Orac and contributors at SBM and TWIV, I’ll hear it from them first rather than from random commenters or simplified news reports that miss most relevant details.

There should be a filter at all reputable journals (and even the dubious and disreputable ones) that detects when a submitted paper lists Stephanie Seneff as a co-author, and flags it for especially intensive peer review (or outright rejects it).

Detecting Steve Kirsch as a co-author should generate an auto-reply, “are you effing kidding me???!!?”.

Orac, yesterday, asked why
“.. people without expertise in the relevant sciences seem to think that they know what they are talking about better than actual scientists?”

I imagine because they can’t realistically evaluate their own abilities AND/OR
they see an opportunity to become admired, followed and listened to by people even less informed than they are, which can be monetised.

Self evaluation is a skill that develops over childhood and adolescence: kids gradually become wary about predicting their own success at everything they do. Of course, some people never improve. Personality differences can affect this tendency.

Because I hear/ read so many poseurs like this, I can usually discern their level of actual expertise/ education in areas that I have studied: often they make extremely basic errors that a simple 100 level course would clear up immediately YET they portray themselves as experts who dare to critique an entire field such as vaccines, infectious disease, neurology, mental illness, economics or education which their audience have NOT studied at all.

To put up a good front, they cherry pick terminology that sounds arcane or difficult whilst they simultaneously seek out scary events that might happen. Usually they clothe this in language they adopt from popular current “thought” leaders often in politics, mostly of the right, catering to a culture of grievance: “things are bad and bad actors made them so”. They present themselves as informers, educators, ‘good people’ and prescient in contrast.

In exchange for their “good work”, they ask for contributions to their “charities” ( and they usually have one), to buy their products or
to subscribe to their Substack. They identify with groups they think that their audience admires: conservative religion or politics, anti-woke leaders, anti-DEI, anti-women’s rights and anti-modernity. Often they contrast the pure, healthy, righteous past ( 1950s? 1970s?) to the hellscape we currently live in and they offer SOLUTIONS!

[…] Obnoxious tech bro turned “debate me, bro” antivaxxer Steve Kirsch is a fairly frequent topic on this blog for the simple reason that it’s hard to find a more rabid antivaxxer out there who produces more and stupider antivax misinformation on such a regular basis, yet utterly lacks any sense of his own limitations with respect to understanding the relevant scientific disciplines. Whether falsely claiming that COVID-19 vaccines have killed 3.5 times more people than COVID-19, accepting stolen data from a fake “New Zealand whistleblower” and then threatening to release protected health information (PHI), or just randomly challenging anyone refuting his nonsense to “debate me, bro,” Mr. Kirsch has certainly made a name for himself as one of the living personification of the arrogance of ignorance applied to COVID-19, COVID-19 vaccines, and, increasingly, just vaccines and medicine in general. However, his latest antic might just be his most risibly nonsensical yet. Basically, he is suing Springer Nature, one of whose journals is Cureus, which published a review article/commentary that contained black hole density-level pseudoscience, misinterpretation of studies, and antivax quackery and pseudoscience. Why? Because Cureus actually did the right thing and retracted the paper. […]

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