Michael Yeadon; or why we should listen to the scientists who listen to the scientists,Mark Horne,The Skeptic

Skeptics love a bit of evidence. I love evidence. “What’s your evidence for that?” I think, but often don’t say, like a stereotypical reserved Brit when confronted by absolute nonsense in a social setting. 

We often need someone to communicate that evidence for us – not to mention gather it, analyse it, and test it – and so Skeptics also tend to love scientists. “Listen to the scientists,” we may find ourselves saying to our dear old uncle who has literally crafted a hat made from kitchen foil, which you really hope he’s made purely to wind you up, as you try to extol the virtues of him getting vaccinated, seeing as he’s over 60 and not in the best of health.

What we mean, of course, is for people to listen to the broad scientific consensus by those who are experts in their field, not some fringe outlier who might, for example, insist that the pandemic will fizzle out… back in October 2020. 

Which is what Dr Michael Yeadon, the former CSO of a Pfizer research unit (and 2021 Rusty Razor winner) predicted in a Daily Mail article that there would be no second wave of COVID-19 infections. One wonders what he thinks of the third wave of infections, as we find ourselves in 2022 with 100,000 more COVID-19 deaths in the UK alone, since his article was published. 

How can it be that this well-qualified man, with a BSc in biochemistry, a PhD in pharmacology, and a career as a research scientist at one of the world’s leading pharmaceutical companies is so consistently incorrect about COVID-19? It is worth returning to the myriad ways in which Michael Yeadon is wrong about the pandemic, as it is pretty much the antivax full house. 

Yeadon stated in an interview in April 2021 that “You don’t need masks, they don’t work.”

This is, of course, not backed up by the evidence, which says that “wearing face masks protects people (both health-care workers and the general public) against infection by these coronaviruses.”

In the same video Yeadon says:

Forget lockdowns, they never slow transmission which took place mostly in institutions like hospitals and care homes.

Once again, this is not backed up by the evidence, with one study from Imperial College London suggesting that European lockdowns saved over 3 million lives in the initial 2020 outbreak alone. 

I’m very much like Yeadon, in that I really dislike lockdowns and masks, but I’m open to following precautionary advice – especially where backed up by evidence – so I support measures that make my life less pleasant in order to save other people’s lives. Quite why Yeadon is so opposed to the overwhelming consensus of expert researchers in the field is not clear, although Yeadon himself insists that he, as a scientist, considers the data to be paramount. Former colleagues are apparently baffled by his behaviour, which in as recently as early 2020 still seemed to support COVID-19 vaccination, and which they describe as being out of character for the person they knew and worked with. 

Yeadon also insists that asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 is so small as to be an irrelevance, discussing a scant few reports, one of which he says is debunked, and adds:

That is the totality of evidence supporting asymptomatic transmission.

It may not surprise readers to learn that the research points the other way: although the evidence is a little unclear, due to the difficulties in distinguishing between pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic cases, asymptomatic transmission is taking place sufficiently to warrant attention – albeit at a lower rate than for symptomatic transmission. 

The vaccines have, of course, formed a major strand in Yeadon’s misleading statements on the pandemic. Yeadon has said that dose-ranging studies were not conducted on the vaccines, which is, of course, not the case

One of Yeadon’s actions with the most significant impact was his co-petitioning of the European Medicines Agency to halt trials of the Pfizer-Biontech vaccine in Europe, claiming the study was inadequately designed and had the potential to cause infertility in women. Although there is no evidence that this claim is true, his petition and concern was widely reported and shared on social media by popular figures such as the now-banned-from-Twitter Naomi Wolf, leading to a spike in searches on the subject, and concerns that this misinformation was fuelling vaccine hesitancy. More vaccine hesitancy, of course, means that more people are going to die. 

Which makes his next claim particularly pernicious. Nothing matters more to parents than the health and safety of our children. So when the vaccine was to be rolled out to children in the UK and reports of post-vaccine myocarditis in children first appeared, I was as worried as the next father. What did Michael Yeadon have to say on the matter? 

It’s a crazy thing then to vaccinate them with something that is actually 50 times more likely to kill them than the virus itself.

This would be terrifying, if true. But it isn’t. We know that COVID-19 has killed children (25 in the UK to February 2021), including some with no underlying health conditions (6 in the UK to February 2021), but the cases of myocarditis following vaccination in under-18s have been mild and no deaths have been identified in the UK by FullFact in their assessment of this claim. 

By now the Dr Michael Yeadon who once tweeted positively about vaccines is a long way in the rear view mirror. Some of his statements require no referenced debunking, because it is not clear how one would even go about addressing absurd claims like the following

I think the purpose of that is going to be mass depopulation… I can’t think of a single benign interpretation for the simple creation of these top-up vaccines, let alone the lies that surround them… the combination of vaccine passports and top-up vaccines is going to lead to mass depopulation. Deliberate execution potentially of billions of people.

Sadly, credulous fringe outlets continue to cover Yeadon and he shows no signs of letting up, recently joining the team behind a website that purports to advise people which batches of vaccines are by intention or by error – more likely to cause adverse reactions. You can probably guess which explanation Yeadon favours:

these drug companies are highly professional outfits, they know how to manufacture, reproducibly, we saw that with the flu vaccines over decades. I’m afraid I’ve come to the conclusion they’re doing it on purpose…. I fear that this is deliberate.

The website, How Bad is My Batch?, draws data from the widely misunderstood VAERS system for reporting adverse events following vaccination. While VAERS is a critical system for use by researchers and analysts to keep vaccines safe, anti-vaccine activists typically neglect to mention that the report of a death to VAERS indicates nothing about what caused that death, and as the CDC itself points out, the database “may include incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental and unverified information”. When you vaccinate hundreds of millions or billions of people, some of those people will be ill or die in the time afterwards, and as explained by Dr William Moss of Johns Hopkins:

When you’re giving a COVID-19 vaccine to elderly adults, there are going to be people who die shortly after vaccination because they would have died anyway.

Michael Yeadon’s statements on the pandemic have been repeatedly wrong. Sadly, that doesn’t always filter through to his audience. It is hard to blame someone for worrying that a former “chief scientist” might be right when it comes to their fertility or children’s health, even when that scientist is going against the evidence and the overwhelming scientific consensus. 

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Michael Yeadon, a former scientist at Pfizer, becoming one of the most prolific sources of pandemic pseudoscience shows that even experts aren’t immune from misinformation
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