Scientists vs Science: Interviews with Mike Yeadon and Robert Malone
COVID-truthers have a science problem. They don’t need more politicians or activists arguing against lockdowns or debating the efficacy of masks. They need scientists – qualified people with proven track records and fancy degrees. Even if these scientists retread the same ground as other covid-skeptic or anti-mRNA-vax influencers, the letters after their names make their messages sound more official and more believable.
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been in correspondence with two individuals: Dr. Mike Yeadon and Dr. Robert Malone. Both Malone and Yeadon have real scientific credentials. Both have also appeared on Tucker Carlson, featured on a number of anti-vax channels, and become prominent voices in the anti-vax and COVID-denial movements. I interviewed Malone by phone and had a lengthy email correspondence with Yeadon.
Dr. Robert Malone, who has both an MD and an MA in biology, works as a scientist-policymaker. He’s worked in the developing world, putting together Ebola and Zika vaccine initiatives, and has run his own scientific consulting business for about 20 years. According to his CV, he is currently working on repurposing a popular heartburn drug as a COVID-19 treatment; however, according to an Associated Press article from last year, the project fizzled after both disappointing results and a whistleblower complaint.
Malone gets his credibility among the anti-vax and anti-COVID-vax crowd by calling himself the inventor of mRNA vaccines, which is a bit like calling a guy who worked on the combustion engine the inventor of space flight. The work was absolutely a milestone on the way to jet propulsion, and our ideating engineer probably hoped to go to the stars. But Malone wasn’t the only person working on mRNA, he wasn’t the only person to have the idea of an mRNA vaccine and, as of now, he hasn’t been working in that field of research for 30 years.
Malone claims to have had the words “inventor of mRNA vaccines” on his CV for years, and while an earlier copy of his CV was not obtainable, an archived version of his LinkedIn page from 2010 does not include this phrase. It instead claims that he is “known as one of the original inventors of DNA vaccination.” Archives of his webpage also reveal that he only added a “inventor of mRNA vaccine” tab sometime early in 2021.
“I didn’t invent these vaccines,” he said in an interview with me. “I invented the vaccine platform and the concept. I did not invent these specific vaccines.”
Back in 1989, as a postdoc biology student, he worked in two labs under Dr. Inder Verma at the Salk Institute, and under Dr. Phil Felgner at the biotech company Vical. His name appears on a succession of patents alongside Felgner’s and a few other postdocs. When I pressed him on how he can claim to be the sole inventor of the mRNA vaccine if he shares his patents with a group of other people, he accused his fellows of theft.
“Phil has been trying to steal my credit for what I’ve done my whole career,” he told me.
Felgner, however, does not claim to have invented the mRNA vaccine. In a phone call with Logically’s reporters, Felgner made it clear that the development of mRNA technology was a decades-long process, of which his team played a part and that Malone was one of a talented group of researchers led by Felgner.
Later, however, Malone contradicted himself, and seemed to confirm Felgner’s account of a decades-long process. “They did not take advantage of my research. It’s the way science works. You build on each other,” Malone said, acknowledging the process. “The work of Pieter Cullis at UBC is what’s really enabled this generation of vaccines to be developed, and he’s been working on this for 40 years.”
It doesn’t make much sense why someone would claim to be the inventor of a vaccine he is also claiming is causing lots of damage. The contradiction becomes clearer when we discuss Dr. Katalin Karikó, who worked with Dr. Drew Weissman to develop the Pfizer vaccine.
Malone shared with me a series of emails between his wife, Karikó, and himself. In March of this year, Malone’s wife Dr. Jill Glasspool sent Karikó an article in the New England Journal of Medicine, accusing her of erasing Malone from history. (The article was written by Dr. Angela Desmond and Dr. Paul Offit.)
Karikó replied that she acknowledges Malone and especially Felgner for their research, and cites them in her papers, even thanking Malone alongside a few others in the acknowledgments section of one. She also said that the first to use mRNA vaccines were a group of French researchers working on influenza in the early 90s, which is when she herself had been working on them. The exchange escalates through to June, with Karikó eventually asking them both to stop sending “threatening letters.”
Malone claimed that Karikó “wasn’t the one that developed that vaccine” but instead “was placed in that position.” If you look at all the manuscripts that relate to that vaccine,” he said, “she’s not on any of them.” Karikó and Weissman share two patents for making mRNA non-immunogenic, which was the innovation that made mRNA vaccination possible.
Malone admitted to getting the Moderna vaccine himself, but said he did so because he was suffering from long Covid, and the data at the time suggested it improved outcomes. He also said that he and his wife needed to travel, which made the vaccination necessary. “The trolls hit me with that almost daily,” he said.
When I asked him whether he used Telegram, he said, “I’ve heard of it. I don’t use it.”
I told him about how quotes and videos of him are being used to promote a more general anti-vax agenda on Telegram, the chat app where most of the medical misinformation using his image can be found, and asked him how he felt about that. He said “I can’t control that. I’m not responsible for that. All I can do is try to speak truth to the best of my ability.”
A Telegram account registered to his phone number showed it had been active within the last day.
Dr. Mike Yeadon gets his credibility from being an ex-Pfizer scientist. He holds a Ph.D. in pharmacology and worked in the pharmaceutical industry for 35 years. 16 of these years were at Pfizer, and six at his own startup Ziarco, which he sold for hundreds of millions of pounds. He is retired and splits his time between the cities of Nice in France, and Canterbury in the U.K. He has never worked on vaccines.
Since May of last year, Yeadon has been accusing the government of an escalating series of crimes and cover-ups. On his Twitter page, which no longer exists, he gained an impressive following over the course of 2020. He eventually created a petition with another German anti-vax doctor, Wulfgang Wodarg, demanding that the EU stop vaccine trials because according to him, they damage fertility.
According to an interview Yeadon gave on Del Bigtree’s podcast, in 2021, he set a demanding media schedule for himself. He wrote a press release in which he stated that he was a retired Pfizer doctor who wanted to talk about the dangers of the vaccine and the “eight big lies” of the pandemic. He hired a PR company (it is unclear which one) and claims that his press release has been sent out to thousands of outlets. The people who took him up on this press release were, of course, fringe anti-vaxxer outlets.
Each interview appearance is more or less the same. He has a rough script he works from, and he asks the hosts to let him finish when he’s in the middle of his flow. He says that COVID isn’t dangerous, lockdowns don’t work, PCR tests don’t work, the vaccines are more lethal than COVID, the government wants to steal your freedom to advance a transnational agenda. He always says that he has no reason to say any of this except to “expose the lies.”
When I initially emailed him for this article, he lashed out. “Do you have approximately 40 years training & practise in life science disciplines relevant to this global fraud? The answer is no. You appear not even to have foundational education in science. Why then are you involving yourself in matters scientific?” Yeadon asked me.
I do not have approximately 40 years training and practice in life science disciplines relevant to any global fraud. I’m just an internet-addled journalist. Yeadon, on the other hand, is a drug maker with loads of experience. However, he is ignoring the training and practice of thousands of other doctors, scientists, and public health experts around the world who disagree with him. It would be trivially easy to go find their scientific papers and contact them directly; he instead chooses to find people who will broadcast his message uncritically. For instance, on Del Bigtree’s show, he baselessly claimed that future vaccine booster shots “could contain a gene sequence designed to kill you” while Bigtree silently nodded along.
Like Malone, Yeadon distanced himself from Telegram and has refused to confirm that an account on the platform under his name does belong to him. An account with his name and profile picture has shared the unscientific ideas that vaccination is dangerous because it causes magnetism, citing a “study” done by a business student in Luxembourg who walked up to random people on the street and tried to stick magnets to them.
Yeadon is also ignoring the expertise of the people he used to work with. Reuters reported that his ex-colleagues had sent him a letter, saying they were concerned about his recent turn, and that he wasn’t the man they used to know.
“I was very disappointed with the ex-colleagues letter,” Yeadon told me. “I thought I’d hired and worked with smarter people than they’d shown themselves to be. I thought I’d been working with people with stronger ethical codes. I was wrong on one or both points.”
He later claimed that in his experience research was “squeaky clean,” with the implication that his industry had become, in the four years that had passed since selling his pharmaceutical startup and retiring, intensely corrupt.
“We in research were as angry as the general public about criminal activity,” he said. “‘The industry’ isn’t what’s brought these vaccines forward, it’s a small group utilising the development & production engines in their vaccine subsidiaries. So I don’t need to repudiate anything.”
Yeadon claims to have no conflicts of interest and nothing to gain. He is fabulously wealthy from the sale of Ziarco. But he’s already using that money to influence politics. During an interview on Steve Bannon’s podcast War Room, Yeadon said that he planned to be spending a lot on supporting “U.S. politicians and influencers” over the next six months. He also has established (or at least endorsed) an initiative in the U.K., “Liberal Spring,” to remake the Lib Dems party into a sort of anti-vaccine-passport party. Finally, and perhaps more remarkably, he’s bought a parcel of land in Tanzania, which he plans to remake it into a sort of intentional community called “Liberty Places” for vax-less mask-less people.
“It’s the brainchild of a friend,” Yeadon told me when I asked about Liberty Places. “The modern world will end, indeed, it already has in many countries. There might come a time where being far from advanced urban civilisations is a safer option than anything else. We’re so dependent on just in time deliveries of everything. Imagine if that faltered, how would you survive? What if as we all expect, vaccine passports are introduced, and required to enter a supermarket. A remote & off grid location would then be much safer, if rather basic.”
He refused to comment on how he felt about establishing an intentional community around the idea of freedom in a country that has an extremely poor record on human rights.
Speaking to Malone and Yeadon was a distinctly unfun experience. Yeadon personally called me stupid, a liar, immoral, and threatened to sue if I called him an anti-vaxxer (which I am not doing: Logically has long made the case that the anti-COVID vaccination movement is very different from the traditional anti-vaxx movement). Malone opted for a different tactic, telling his 106k Twitter followers to go harass me personally unless I agreed to remove Logically’s fact check about him. Both of them accused me of not understanding the science.
Science has value as a knowledge-producing institution because lots of people check your work. Journalism has value for the same reason – I am accountable to my editors, my colleagues, and my audience. If I write something that’s untrue, it damages my career, and I can get sued. If a scientist does something wrong or falsifies data, it can waste funding, damage their reputation, even cause medical harm down the line.
People often talk about “believing the science,” but science has value precisely because you don’t have to just believe it. It’s verifiable, and someone’s already verified it. The knowledge it produces has value exactly because the experiments can be done and redone and checked by someone else. Science is not a set of facts that are only available to people with certain letters after their name: it’s an institution, and a process, and a community.
Nobody falls into a COVID-conspiracy hole because they’re wicked, cruel or corrupt. People usually fall in with the best of intentions: they’re worried about health, welfare, or government overreach. When COVID-truther activists say their only motivation is to tell the truth, I mostly believe them. But when a scientist says this, it makes them less credible, not more so. That’s because they know how hard it is to get at the truth, and they know what kind of support that requires from colleagues, mentors, and institutions – exactly the kind of support that Yeadon and Malone have decided they no longer need.