Aya: Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview! To be honest, I cannot quite imagine what you do for a living.
Bobby: (laughs) Yes, my biography is a bit complicated, but I can give you an overview. I used to be a club owner, the business folded, and I decided to become an artist. I moved from Innsbruck to Vienna and studied digital art. After that, I applied to a research center for molecular medicine in Austria (editor’s note: CEEM) at the department of bioinformatics as a 3D artist. I was accepted there at the beginning of 2019 and I spent my time roaming around the labs. My task was to create highly scientific 3D visualizations of proteins and molecules, as well as to create "interfaces," "apps" and easy-to-understand 3D visualizations for communication with the general public. I pretty well "re-engineered" myself with this whole protein thing and the so-called RCSB database – which is a kind of ‘Library of Alexandria’ for proteins.
I depicted molecular structures using 3D programs which enabled me to represent proteins truthfully in three-dimensional space, all on a scientific basis (editor's note: in silico).
Aya: You were also involved in Covid-19 research in the early 2020s through June 2020. How did that come about?
Bobby: When Corona kicked off last year in January, many labs got into a kind of race for scientific supremacy in this field. In my Research Center I was assigned to a SARS-CoV-2 task force. My job was to identify the so-called "spike protein" of the Corona virus and to put it under the microscope. The way artists are, we always do a little more than is actually required! For example, using my 3-D program I filled gaps, i.e. empty spaces in the sequences. To do this, you compare them with other molecular data from the RCSB database, and where something is missing, you piece it together to create a "fuller" picture of the spike protein.
At this point, I started asking the lab staff critical questions about the methodology, questions about so-called gap-filling and alignments. They did not give much away. In retrospect, I now know that they simply did not want to admit to me that it was their daily bread to "experiment" with these gaps in the code during in-silico production.
Aya: What does "in silico production" mean?
Bobby: It's the theoretical fabrication of viral fragments and protein parts. To me, the whole thing suddenly seemed fishy. Added to this was the problem of primary patient isolates. The laboratory was busy isolating and sequencing 1000 Austrian samples. In the process more and more mutations came to light. I wondered how there could suddenly be so many mutations in a single regional cluster. It was quite unrealistic. The day came when I was informed that my employment contract would not be renewed. (4th quarter 2020).
That was more or less the starting signal for me – to become even more critical (laughs). On a day when I was very angry, I created a mega thread on Twitter with 124 tweets.
In the German Corona Committee Session No. 22, Prof. Dr. Ulrike Kämmerer had explained the problem of the Drosten PCR tests. I linked this with my knowledge and tried to explain it for the beginner on Twitter – a mixture of corruption, bioinformatics and the PCR problem. This thread then pretty much hit home.
This is how I came across Dr Pieter Borger, who at the same time was posting on ResearchGate (editor's note: a science publishing platform). At some point he wrote to me and asked: Mr Malhotra, do you want to join me, I want to write a retraction request for the Drosten paper? I had to tell him that I was not a classical scientist, but a digital artist and a self-taught bioinformatician. He was astonished that I was able to converse with him at all. I then told him the same story that I am telling you.
After a meeting with Pieter Borger and Professor Ulrike Kämmerer, quite quickly things became fairly clear. We went our different ways, enquired around our scientific circles and gathered a total of 22 scientists. After we had submitted the results of this team to Eurosurveillance, the question arose: What do we do now? Do we wait and watch the whole thing vanish into thin air? I then decided to make a website out of it (https://cormandrostenreview.com). This is how the whole discussion about the PCR tests was brought to the attention of the public.
Aya: That was very brave of you! You all go in with your real names and stand by an explosive statement. Has there been a public response from "Team Drosten"?
Bobby: (Laughs) Not really. Drosten is being cared for by one or more PR think tanks who are in charge of it. However, the advice and support provided by these PR firms is rather modest. That is, he takes aim at us with some low-quality/low-tier "shills" (editor’s note: paid trolls hired by PR firms) who have stock answers at the ready.
Aya: So you're systematically attacked on social media by paid PR scribblers – and these people then pretend to understand things and defend Drosten?
Bobby: Yes, exactly. Then, when we pin them down on the scientific details, they usually run away. I am a professional "troll" myself. I grew up with the Internet. I know exactly how it works, and I recognize them right away. One of the running gags on my Twitter profile is that I always get blocked quickly. I actually celebrate that every time. We are also planning a database of all the shills to make the links accessible to everyone and expose the PR think tanks that are selling this story.
Drosten, of course, gave us no answers except half-baked hashtag campaigns from the Binder Lab (editor's note: lab from the Drosten network) that we were somehow Nazis. The scientific discourse itself, however, was not there. The Eurosurveillance Journal itself gave us completely absurd answers. So we’ve increased the pressure on social media and published these answers – which of course is good manners in science. But in the current situation everything requires a different approach to the one we took before.
Aya: In a way, this is also a David and Goliath battle. Your opponent has powerful networks. So, in this unequal struggle, your preferred weapon is that of insolence, of deliberate provocation?
Exactly. The players around Drosten have powerful people behind them. My personal opinion – which is certainly not shared by all the other authors – is that if we now step back from all the technical details, the whole thing is just a diversionary game for something else that is actually going on behind the scenes.
I would agree with Ernst Wolff here: it is about economic transformation and holistic digitization. All the other puzzles are "smoke grenades" that are only there to distract. Nevertheless, we thought we'd attack the whole thing from a scientific perspective, because it is all about public opinion. When people realize that the PCR method doesn't work – and Dr. Füllmich understood that right away – that is a good attack strategy.
So if they are already giving us Drosten as a "muppet animal", as it were, as a mascot, then we are deliberately attacking this field and then looking at what is next in the "script." I say script quite deliberately, because we are experiencing how a script is executed. They have come up with all kinds of scenarios in order to implement what they have in mind. It is, of course, an area of speculation about what is really going on behind the scenes.
But many know by now, that this is about transformation, it's about digital currencies, it's about cushioning past financial crashes, it's about total micro-managed control of everyone, every human being, under the disguise of what’s best for people. The more people wake up and understand that this is not just a notorious pharma game, but much more – the higher the likelihood is that the main players will fail with it. There are many models that say it only takes 10% of the population not to play along before the whole house of cards collapses.
Exactly, the critical mass. What are they going to do if just 10% of the population doesn't play along? Then it will become quite difficult for them.
Certainly, all the critical authors who are now positioning themselves in the Retraction Report have a lot to lose – but we also have a lot to lose if we do nothing at all.
After all, a major problem with discourse critical to the response to Corona is the complexity of the scientific arguments, which are difficult to communicate to a broader public.
Aya: How do you get your arguments across to the "critical mass"?
Bobby: This is a very important point. One approach would be what is called long-form discussion, i.e. discussions which last two to three hours and where scientists really get together at a table with normal people, and the challenge is to explain important concepts to these people in a way they can understand.
For this we want to use the digital space, that is, use it for enlightened education.
In the coming weeks; I’m involved in another type of approach together with Howard Steen (an artist friend). We’ve created a new web platform to share very short but informative videos about various aspects of the Covid crisis which society now finds itself in. We’re positioning ourselves at the interface, so to speak, between art, science and the public. Most artists have effectively been silenced over the last 12 months. But we feel we have a role to play by communicating to the public using strong imagery and short stories. When so many state institutions are failing the people, Art must intervene and say something.
Aya: How do you briefly and succinctly explain to a layman what your Corman-Drosten Retraction Report and the current Addendum are all about?
Bobby: For the sake of simplicity, I'll call it the Main Review Report and the Addendum.
The Main Review Report was simply about the quality of the scientific work. If this Drosten protocol is supposed to be the gold standard among PCR protocols – does the associated paper also meet that standard? I’ll just mention a few critical points:
Certain required data are simply absent, for example, the so-called Ct value, the critical issue of the number of cycles up to which a result can be deemed ‘positive’. In the WHO document and in Drosten's paper 45 cycles are specified, but there is no specific Ct "cut-off value" mentioned.
But this cut-off value is very important, it has to be specified for a practical testing scenario. It is widely recognised that any result obtained above 35 cycles is useless. But as this cut-off is not specified, it is highly likely that many labs run 45 cycles and that this generates too many false positives.
Aya: Do you think the cut-off value is deliberately kept high or indeterminate?
Bobby: The whole thing is designed in such a way that it always leads to errors somehow, either false positives or false negative results come out. Furthermore, it is strange that Drosten in January was already set to go. Drosten has made a veritable mystery of where he got his in-silico templates from.
He would have read that somewhere on social media and then somehow thought that the virus must be one way or another and then, most likely, did the same thing that we were doing here at the time (editor’s note: at CEEM) i.e. filling “gaps” and plugging something together.
And then he plugged it together and sent it via his bosom friend, Olfert Landt (TIB Molbiol / Roché Partner) to Hong Kong. The awkward thing here was that Drosten's PCR protocol was paid for by the Berlin Charité (i.e. with taxpayers' money) and tested on a patient in Hong Kong: Hooray, it turned out to be positive! And suddenly he was ready and sent it immediately to the WHO before he had even submitted it to Eurosurveillance for peer review. They uploaded it immediately (apparently without a peer review) and then he sent it to Eurosurveillance.
Then, oddly, through his co-author, Marion Koopmans, Maria Zambon, or other colleagues like Andreas Nietzsche (formerly TIB Molbiol, now RKI), who prefers to stay in the background and is not so much noticed by the public, these people have probably been WHO advisors, like the co-author Maria Zambon, and somehow they have seen to it that only their protocol has been de facto officially recommended by the WHO. This is then like a high quality seal of approval. He has always been able to fall back on this. Yes, the WHO recommended it! That is how he worked.
If you want to reconstruct this, he always used his network to tell his friend Olfert Landt: "Hey, now the Iranians need your test prototype again. Send it there and I'll put in a good word for you – we'll make sure you have the dominant market sector there, at least at the beginning of this pandemic. We didn't articulate that so clearly in the Review Report but it comes out between the lines, that's how it happened. ____________
I'm not going to get into the conflicts of interest right now, and I'm going to jump right to the Addendum. We have also set up a Comments field on our site, where the discussion has already started. Of course, the Drosten fanboys and girls immediately came and criticized this and that.
There was just one outstanding point of criticism. “You have not done any real experiments, what are called wet-lab experiments.” And here they were basically right.
That's why we went on a search with Kevin (Kevin McKernan, editor's note).
because he is Mister Technical Details. He is the "Mister PCR" in the scientific literature. From him we know that this Primers & Probes design from the Charité is actually pretty well garbage.
So we included these technical details in the Addendum. For example, the RdRp gene has too low a sensitivity. The point is that you have to have a certain kind of sensitivity to be sure that the result is true. And it is not true. One very cute detail is that there is a study by Muenchhoff et al., which was itself published by Eurosurveillance. Drosten was a co-author of this study, and their conclusion was that the RdRp-gene should be taken out of the protocol and replaced.
Aya: Yet knowing full well that this gene is too unspecific a primer, he then brought it back into his test protocol?
Bobby: Yes, he left it in. Look at the timeline again: The Muenchhoff et al. study came out at the end of July, i.e. was published and peer-reviewed, and in the conclusion it says that the RdRp gene should be replaced. So, if he was a good scientist, he should have immediately called the WHO and say, guys, I was part of a study and, after lengthy wet-lab tests, we found out that this has to be removed – but he didn't do that!
And the cute detail is that he is a co-author. There are no internal controls. There are sort of templates, I'll call it now, a template that applies to the whole thing, and that measures, for example, how much variance is in the whole. If the variance is too great, then you can correct it and "normalize" it, so to speak. Then you get more accurate results again.
But since these internal controls do not exist, it is a Wild West of interpretation possibilities. For instance, the problem already mentioned with the missing or too high cT value.
Or, you are compelled to ascertain in the NCBI database – a database that records all possible sequences – that its two main primers are missing.
The N-gene and the E-gene are missing or, rather, they do not match.
Here Kevin McKernan has been able to prove that this was not investigated because everything was simply waved through, so that they could get their WHO recommendation quickly.
You could have seen from the technical details that the whole thing is a) totally ill-designed, by mediocre-to-bad scientists, or b) that everything is on purpose.
My personal interpretation is the latter: it is designed in its entirety so that many false positives occur.
We added this little scoop as an afterthought because it silences these critics on Twitter very quickly.
You then just tell them, look at our Addendum, 60 pages, 20 wet-lab literature references, the Charité primer design does not meet scientific standards.
Who are you primarily attacking with the Corman-Drosten review? The authors or the journal?
Both, but we as a group of authors are primarily looking to blame the journal Eurosurveillance. Nothing about that journal is transparent.
Pieter Borger asked them if we can at least have the protocol of the peer-review process. In response, they sent us two pages of, well, let's call it, lame excuses and said, no, we can't give you that because the reviewers of the paper must remain anonymous.
To release the protocol is supposedly "totally unusual" in science, it is meant for internal use only. -------------------------
It would include the identity of the reviewers, which is of course total humbug – you can issue a review protocol without the names of the reviewers – but then we would at least know how the review process had been done.
As to the question of whether it was waved through in two days? Definitely even less: with the typesetting and everything, it must have taken somewhere between 3.5 hours and 27.5 hours.
The actual peer-review process took a little over a day at most. And of course, that's not possible at all.
And especially with such a complex topic, i.e. PCR protocol design, here all checks & channels simply failed.
And what is also very exciting is: Whenever we ask Eurosurveillance – when will the review process be finished, they say they have been in existence since 1995, and have been publishing scientific papers since 2007. It has never once happened that they have had to retract a paper.
Then there is a sweet little detail: Eurosurveillance is a journal that publishes so-called "rapid communications." The "star virologist," Drosten, who is also a member of the editorial board next to Chantal Reusken, submitted their paper under the pretext that a "worldwide catastrophe" was now the order of the day, so they had to submit it as a rapid communications paper.
That is also one of the main arguments used by the low-quality shills, that that's how it was at the time. It was an emergency, something was needed quickly.
Okay, let's suppose this argument is valid, temporarily, and let us come to our Review Report: we submitted it as a rapid communication, but now it has already taken nine weeks – that is, it didn't happen that quickly for us, although it is just as urgent.
For a scientific journal, where the real currency is trust in the peer-review process, this is scandalous. My personal opinion would be that this journal should close down now.
There are also still an incredible number of links to the European Disease Control, grants commissions, they are closely linked to the Charité Berlin, they quote each other all the time...
Aya: Citation cartels...
Bobby: Exactly, and then there was this fascinating detail that it was financed with European taxpayers' money and Grants Control.
Aya: What happened as a result of that?
Bobby: Two things: With the fact that the Charité did not patent it and told Drosten he could do what he wanted with it, the door was opened wide to the "Wild West" of the RT-qPCR market.
Drosten acted as if they had released it as "open source" out of kindness, only he forgot to mention that together with Olfert Landt he got the ultimate market advantage.
In Australia, he did it in a very similar way, with his friends John F Mackay and Ian M Mackay, who is my very special friend on Twitter, with whom I've been fighting a Twitter war for quite some time.
He wrote a book in 2009, RT-qPCR in Microbiology. All these names are in it: Drosten, Andreas Nietzsche, John F Mackay, Olfert Landt, Marion Koopmans, who was a nobody before but after the book she suddenly became someone.
Not only did they all get to know each other at conferences, they quoted each other over and over again.
Then there's Wodarg and the story with the swine flu in 2009, Wolfgang Wodarg who single-handedly stopped it in its tracks. He believed that it could not happen again – but he was wrong.
They are a very close-knit group.
Aya: Have the Drosten trolls bothered you since the publication of the Addendum?
Bobby: (laughs) No, not since yesterday! They'll probably plough through it now. They probably have a meeting like this every day, then they put together some script, what they have to object to, and they're going to fail because the technical details are all firmly established.
You also have to look at the figures and graphs in the scientific literature very carefully – because often the conclusion does not match what is in the graphs.
If the graph says: the Charité primer is unusable, then it says e.g. in the conclusion: it is super! In the meantime, such methods are commonplace in science because everything has degenerated into pseudo-science. Discussion is no longer possible, because due to some gatekeepers or conflicts of interests people are no longer interested in entering into a real discussion.
Interestingly, right now most of the battles are taking place on Twitter. I'm pretty involved in this war – this digital information war.
Aya: You would really call it a war?
Bobby: Yes, definitely. If I again make a zoom of it and look at it from my artist's perspective – this may sound a bit exaggerated – then we are almost in a kind of Third World War, only this one is taking place digitally.
There is a lecture by Richard Dawkins, where he talks about so-called memes, or the memplex, the collective consciousness of ideas.
I am quite experienced in the "high art of trolling". That's where the so-called memes come in. Memes: memes and memetics.
Aya: You work with images, humor and tidbits of information for lay people, with the big question being who is going to win this visual information war?
Bobby: We are fighting against well-budgeted PR companies, who have been given a specific mandate to "push" certain content; we are fighting them with facts so that as many people as possible wake up to what is happening.
Again zoomed out, the whole thing seems clownesque, like a clown world. There are people who don't want to deal with it because it's such a dark, dark topic.
But more and more are coming to understand: Television tries to program me, so I'd rather get my information from somewhere else.
We are being attacked by these "virtual weapons" for the first time, and they are unknown to us.
Exactly, we are currently being attacked at the level of the memplex, at the level of ideas. This realization is central to me.
Aya: We see the tech world acting as a cartel, especially evident since the blocking of Parler by Amazon, on whose servers the program was running. Suddenly, this war of sovereignty is about very tangible advantages: who can provide the computing power to keep up with the top dogs?
Bobby: Precisely. If, for political reasons, cloud servers say we no longer support Parler, we have a huge problem. There is an agenda, which the big tech companies are playing to. They are as it were the tool for it. We have become too dependent on these Big Tech companies.
Since the beginning of the Internet, it's always been the trolls who have spoken out against censorship.
The Chan culture, for example, is one of the few places on the Internet where you can still state your opinion anonymously, i.e. without the police coming to your door (provided you have a good VPN).
You’ll find extreme opinions there from the far left to the far right, but then you can get a picture of how such a truly open debate could work. In conventional social media that is not possible because we've been sensitized to so-called "safe spaces," i.e. where you're not allowed to talk about certain things.
For example, someone who requests an isolate of the Corona virus is a virus denier, a "Corona denier."
Aya: The pigeonholes are now clearly in place.
Bobby: Exactly. It is a mixture of fear, of framing, of collective assassinations, of pigeonholing. At the demos there is controlled opposition, which I always point out because, for example, I don't want our group of authors to be infiltrated in any way.
That's why I've been so loud on Twitter about this. I'm allowed to do that, as a digital artist, or rather, as an artist, I see it as my job to keep drawing attention to it.
And lo and behold, the controlled opposition has left the Corman-Drosten report alone, i.e. not a single mention since it was published. My opinion: they will have their reasons not to mention it, it's certainly not in the script.
In Germany, although people have been mobilized, they have been shoved into the “waffler” corner – this is another PR buzzword in German. "Schwurbel" (waffler) is a frame that was invented to signal to "normal people" what they should definitely not listen to. Right now, we are in a very dark time, with the accumulation of all kinds of things that we never wanted to have in our lives.
If anyone thinks that's not designed, they're naive. It's designed through and through.
If we look again to the past, to the various PR think tanks. How the Iraq war was sold to the U.S. population: It was the “incubator” lie, where the British diplomat's daughter, who was posing as a nurse, said that Iraqi soldiers were ripping babies out of incubators. In fact, she was the daughter of a Kuwaiti diplomat, and it didn't happen.
The second lie was the vial of "weapons of mass destruction" that Colin Powell held up to the camera. That's how this war was sold to the public. Hill+Knowlton sold it at the time. And it is the same people who are now in the WHO canvassing for Covid propaganda. That is, people who are responsible for half a million deaths in the Iraq war are now responsible for the COVID-19-Communication. .....
The plans have to do with digitization. If you get the wrong blockchain among the masses, that is, the centralized blockchain, rather than the decentralized one, then you're sort of in control of everything. These are all details that people should know about.
Aya: As a democracy movement, do we need the blockchain for our content to be decentralized and so protect it from being accessed by governments?
Bobby: Yes. Satoshi conceived of this system and then "absconded" as a precaution – to this day, no one really knows who he is. Why did he do that? Well, because it was perfectly clear to him that this technology eliminates the "middle man," the bank, the state.
That, of course, was a big thorn in the side of the nation states and banks, that there was a "weapon" that made them obsolete. So now they are promoting the so-called Blockchain 2.0, that is, the centralized blockchain and promising people everything under the sun.
I'm a big supporter of everything that is decentralized – whether it's a payment system, or a peer-review system on the blockchain – yes please! That would sort of get us out of this situation.
Kevin McKernan and I talk about this a lot – we are very much in favor of having the scientific peer-review process run on the blockchain, then every step is time-stamped as a mini-transaction and you can track everything closely.
Aya: So technology is not always evil surveillance capitalism, it could instead make institutions more transparent?
Bobby: Yes, technology itself is not "evil." For me, the solution is decentralized working in all fields: Politics, payment systems, science.
It's really clear to us now: the old normality is not going to come back. In the meantime, so much damage has been done that this old normality will cease to exist. We can now only consider what a "new normality" should look like, as we would like to see it.
Aya: You mean we have to create our own vision "from below"?
Bobby: The “Basis” is the magic word. Things change as people come to realize that they are the basis of everything.
If Amazon makes us too comfortable with the delivery of goods, then we really have to think ten times over about how far we want to push this. Are we going to become couch potatoes and say that from now on we will always rely on Amazon? Or do we try out the smaller services and give everyone a little more, a share so that there is not too much monopolization?
One of the most classic dystopias in science fiction is that the corporations monopolize everything in the end, making politics and grassroots democracy obsolete. The opportunity is to turn the whole thing into a utopia that comes from us. I am assuming that in reality people are intelligent enough: the "Silent Majority," that we should hope for in 2021.
Aya: Exciting. You have actually learned from the enemy and can now use information as a sort of "weapon" against the other side. How do you deal with censorship on social media?
Bobby: In my experience, you shouldn't be so guided by fear of censorship. I'll explain it with an analogy: Every city has its own drug park. The police are usually not interested in breaking up this drug park, because what happens then? If the drug park is broken up, the police no longer know where the dealers have gone. It's the same with social media.
They ultimately can't afford to become a pure echo chamber. Because then science will also run away from them. I would advocate not overstating the censorship fear.
It can't even get that far, in my opinion. They need us. Now it's just a matter of reaching the critical mass who will then think the same thoughts.
Aya: You spoke earlier about the fine art of trolling. In mainstream discourse, trolls are something negative and suspicious: the "troll bubble" has struck again!. Who is the troll for you?
Bobby: The troll is actually the same as an artist, an artist is also a troll. If you look back in history, it used to be the juggler or the joker. The joker had the privilege of dancing back and forth between royalty and ordinary folk, making fun of the King. Often the king needed this, to have jokes made about him, in order to think about what could be made fun of. If it is the artist or the troll who does it, then you are better prepared for it when it is important. In many situations in life it is humor that is the key to success . A bit like South Park... you laugh through life.
Therefore, in my eyes, the troll has an important function, similar to that of memes. Good memes don't need a text to tell you what to think, they are understood all over the world.
Dear Bobby, thank you very much for the stimulating interview!
The interviewer was Aya Velázquez