And while Morris believes that all claims about vaccine safety should be properly vetted—“Is it possible there’s another rare side effect of the vaccines that we haven’t figured out yet? Yeah, it’s possible,” he told me—he also says that he has regularly seen Kirsch manipulate evidence so that it seems to support claims that are, in reality, baseless. In fact, he was unwittingly the source for one of Kirsch’s figures.

In September, Kirsch emailed Morris asking him to estimate the maximum number of deaths caused by vaccines. “Who knows,” Morris replied. “But not 150K. And not zero.”

Kirsch immediately forwarded the exchange to me and, I suspect, other journalists. “BOMBSHELL: Top biostats professor admits we have NO CLUE # of people KILLED by COVID vaccines,” he wrote. “He thinks # killed by vax could be anywhere between 0 and 150K people dead.”

Those who know Kirsch say this is a typical tactic. He’s adept at debate, rapidly shifting the premise of a conversation to put the other person on the back foot.

“He may not be a good scientist, but he’s smart,” says WVU’s Feinberg. “He’s very convincing. He might be a good snake oil salesman.”

I experienced this myself when, on one call, we discussed several studies. Kirsch told me that “meta-analyses are a higher level of evidence than randomized controlled trials.” When I responded that meta-analyses are only as good as the data they are based on, he said “I’d like to understand your source on that, because I can’t find a source that says a phase 3 trial is greater evidence than a meta-analysis.” 

“When you characterize me, you need to say that Steve Kirsch doesn’t go with majority votes on interpreting data.”

Steve Kirsch

While combining the results of several well-designed trials can strengthen an argument or unearth patterns unseen in smaller samples, a meta-analysis is just the sum of its parts; any single well-done experiment is more useful than combining the results of several poorly done ones. Still, in the moment, his question threw me, and I stuttered. 

Perhaps Kirsch’s most effective tactic, though, is simply his willingness to outlast everyone else. During our first conversation, which turned into a multi-hour Zoom session, Kirsch paced through the rooms of his cavernous house with his phone held at chest level, rarely looking down at the camera. Thirty minutes past the end of our scheduled time, he dropped his phone in the cupholder of his Tesla so that he could keep talking while he ran an errand.

“When you need to characterize me, you need to say that Steve Kirsch doesn’t go with majority votes on interpreting data,” he told me when I asked about his views on ivermectin, which he insists is a silver bullet against covid. “If you wanna find someone to debate me for ten thousand dollars, or a thousand dollars, I’m happy to do that, just for your benefit.” 

Eventually, a press representative who was listening in, David Satterfield, unmuted his microphone to suggest we finish our conversation by email. After I ended the Zoom meeting, Satterfield called me to apologize for cutting us off. “I was just getting tired,” he said, before asking to speak off the record. 

A web of influence

None of this would really matter if Kirsch’s views on vaccinations were private, or shared with a limited audience. But as Kirsch has clashed with the experts he initially surrounded himself with, he’s grown increasingly close to others who share his perspectives on vaccines—who have, in turn, provided a large and receptive audience to his claims about a fluvoxamine conspiracy.

His appearance on an episode of anti-covid-vaccine, pro-ivermectin pundit Bret Weinstein’s DarkHorse podcast, alongside Robert Malone, a prominent source of vaccine misinformation, introduced Kirsch to followers of the “intellectual dark web,” who have since embraced him as a fellow truth-teller. He’s also made several videos and podcasts with Vladimir Zelenko, the conspiracy theorist doctor who convinced Trump to take hydroxychloroquine.  

While YouTube has repeatedly taken down the full video of the DarkHorse episode, various clips have been watched over 4 million times, and the full audio remains available on Spotify.