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John Lam's Blog


Joe Rogan, Robert Malone and the history of mRNA vaccines🔗

The current controversy-de-jour is Joe Rogan's interviews with vaccine skeptics. Today, Joe posted an Instagram post where he highlights his controversial interviews with Peter McCullough and Robert Malone.

It's worth listening to.

At first I had no idea who Robert Malone was, so tonight I went looking. It's highly likely that mRNA vaccines will recognized in this year's Nobel Prize awards. As background in the runup to the awards, this article in Nature does a great job of outlining the history of the development of mRNA vaccines. In this article I learned more about the development of mRNA vaccines and Robert Malone's role in it.

Apparently he was one of the first people to observe protein transcription following in vitro insertion of mRNA encapsulated inside of liposomes. Here's an excerpt of his graduate student lab notebook from the day of that observation:

Many other scientists are highlighted, including Katalin Karikó, who pioneered modifying mRNA using pseudouridine to suppress immunological response towards it. Pieter Cullis who made key contributions towards developing lipid nanoparticles that are an essential piece of technology that enables safe delivery of mRNA into human cells.

This diagram from the Nature review paper on lipid nanoparticles shows the parallel development of mRNA and lipid nanoparticle technology that resulted in the creation of the vaccines that we enjoy today, and the times when pseudouridine and lipid nanoparticles (and many other discoveries) entered the picture:

So what does all of this have to do with Joe Rogan again? He was accused of bringing contervailing opinions onto his show and giving them a platform. However, it's worth remembering that scientific progress does not progress in the idealized straight line seen in the diagram above. There are many twists and turns, and occasional reversals of course. Sometimes what was accepted as dogma at one point in the past winds up being known to be false today.

There's a story that Ingmar Hoerr tells about the time when he presented his early mouse data on direct injection of mRNA:

there was a Nobel prizewinner standing up in the first row saying, ‘This is completely shit what you’re telling us here — completely shit’.

In fact, this entire field was woefully underfunded precisely because it was outside mainstream science in the 2000s. What if funding for this field never happened?

The solution to people saying things that are contrary to the mainstream belief is not to censor them. Rather, we should combat that by, as Ben Thompson says, using more free speech. There's a lovely quote from Ben's article that I'm reproducing below that cites John Stuart Mill's On Liberty (from 1859):

If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

Joe admits as much in his Instagram post. He says he will try to ensure that other opinions are presented on his show in close proximity to the "controversial opinions". And even if he doesn't, Joe Rogan is hardly the only platform on the Internet.