claim to have invented e-mail, which he certainly did not, insofar as e-mail had long been in common use when he allegedly “invented” it in 1979. Though false, he nevertheless describes himself as the “Inventor of Email” e.g. on the website for his email management software EchoMail.
After his e-mail claims had created some media controversy and been thoroughly scrutinized and demolished (it’s hard to sum up briefly how insane and silly Ayyadurai’s claims about the invention of e-mail were, but there is a decent account here), Ayyadurai alleged that his achievements – a code he created in 1979 that seems to have been generally unknown and apparently had no impact on anything or anyone – have been overlooked as a result of racism, and that mainstream media were conspiring to hide the truth because companies like Raytheon advertise in those media. Raytheon is the company of Ray Tomlinson, often cited as the most obvious choice for the title “inventor of e-mail” after sending the first user@domain e-mail on the Internet in 1971, eight years before Ayyadurai claims to have invented it; after Tomlinson’s death, Ayyadurai tweeted “I’m the low-caste, dark-skinned, Indian, who DID invent #email. Not Raytheon, who profits for war & death. Their mascot Tomlinson dies a liar”. Though he didn’t invent e-mail, Ayyadurai has indeed managed to make money off of the self-manufactured controversy by being extremely litigious and forcing critics into settlements.
Ayyadurai is currently most often mentioned in connection with his social media disinformation campaigns about the coronavirus, which has involved spreading conspiracy theories about the cause of the virus, promoting unfounded COVID-19 treatments, and campaigning to fire Anthony Fauci for allegedly being a so-called “deep state” actor.
On the quackery and pseudoscience side, Ayyadurai has tried to define COVID-19 as “an overactive dysfunctional immune system that overreacts and that’s what causes damage to the body”, and has claimed that vitamin C could be used to treat it. It most definitely cannot, and it is worth emphasizing that Ayyadurai is not a medical doctor and has no medical qualifications. During his 2020 Senate campaign, too, one of his platform claims was that boosting your immune system will save your life (a claim that arguably doesn’t reach the level of meaningfulness required to be deemed properly false), and that social distancing and other public health measures were “fearmongering” promoted by Anthony Fauci for nefarious reasons. Social distancing and isolation, according to Ayyadurai, “affects immune properties on the cellular level. You actually hurt your immune system,” which is incoherent nonsense.
On the conspiracy side, Ayyadurai falsely claimed already back in January 2020, that the coronavirus was patented by the Pirbright Institute, and he is probably largely responsible for the popularization of that particular piece of nonsense. He has later claimed that it is spread by the mythical “deep state”, and have accused Anthony Fauci of being a “Deep State Plant” hellbent on “forced and mandatory vaccines” to support “Big Pharma”. He has also called for Fauci to be fired – indeed, he must be considered one of the leaders of the #fireFauci movement (and yes: he is, of course, antivaccine). His supporters, meanwhile – not wanting to be outdone in terms of disconnect from anything resembling reality – lobbied for Fauci to be replaced by none other than Ayyadurai. QAnon activist DeAnna Lorraine, for instance, recommended that Ayyadurai be included in coronavirus discussions at Donald Trump’s White House, despite (really, because of) his painfully obvious lack of expertise, understanding, qualifications, honesty, integrity or reasoning skills.
Apparently the motivation behind the public health measures – the conspiracy led by Fauci – is a globalist attempt to shut down the economy and benefit Big Pharma and the government of China. “As an MIT PhD in biological engineering, it’s my view that the fear-mongering is really being used to suppress dissent, it’s being used to support mandated medicine, and it’s being really used to support crashing this economy,” said Ayyadurai, and you are allowed to wonder what the relevance of citing his own credentials was supposed to be in that context (he is neither a medical doctor nor an economist). He also lambasted Fauci, an immunologist and director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, for his poor educational background – Ayyadurai is, to repeat ourselves, not a medical doctor and has no expertise or knowledge of medicine – and accused Fauce of being a shill for the interests of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, the Clinton Foundation, and the government of China, all of which are ostensibly fronts for Big Pharma. Even the World Health Organization, which created a diagnostic code for COVID-19, ostensibly generates royalty revenues from companies that conduct diagnostic tests, according to Ayyadurai and no evidence or fact whatsoever.
In March 2020, he published an open letter to president Donald Trump where he wrote that a national lockdown was unnecessary, instead advocating for large doses of vitamins A, D, C and iodine to prevent and cure the disease. It is worth repeating that Ayyadurai is not a medical doctor, has no medical qualifications and rather obviously no understanding of the basics of medicine or physiology – or facts. “Third-world countries” like Chad and Djibouti, he wrote, have had “ZERO deaths” from COVID-19, because they “get food right out of the ground” and are “out in the sun all day.” It is worth pointing out that, in addition to the claims being false, the attitude expressed toward the pandemic is rather typical of fringe quacks and hucksters (a prime example would be Joe Mercola) that might best be summed up as public health denialism: broad public health measures (or overview) aren’t needed if personal health provisions, as determined by people themselves (and by extension: pseudoscience and whatever nonsense the various quacks can successfully market), are in place – the kind of attitude that largely drives anti-lockdown protests and coronavirus denialism in general. And Ayyadurai has indeed become a figure of some authority in the coronavirus denialist movement, railing against various instantiations of X in “FakeX” almost daily in a manner strikingly reminiscent of other, familiar social media figures.
Ayyadurai has a reasonably significant history as an anti-GMO activist and conspiracy theorist – though clearly deranged, his endorsement is of some significance to the anti-GMO movement given his degree in biological engineering; it’s not like the movement can be choosers when it comes to getting relevant scientific expertise onboard. In 2015, Ayyadurai published a paper in a pay-to-play journal that ostensibly applied systems biology to predict the chemical composition of genetically modified (GM) soybeans, claiming that GM soybeans have lower levels of the antioxidant glutathione and higher levels of carcinogenic formaldehyde. He promptly embarked on a promotional speaking tour of the US to promote his GMO conspiracy theories. Of course, Ayyadurai’s results were the result of pseudoscientific nonsense (as e.g. The European Food Safety Agency determined, “the author’s conclusions are not supported”): information about the input to the model was missing, the model was not validated, and Ayyadurai hadn’t even attempted to measure whether GM soy in fact contain elevated levels of formaldehyde. It doesn’t. Ayyadurai is not the kind of person who cares about such pesky details, however, and has continued to cite his model as evidence for lack of safety standards for GM foods, even betting Monsanto a $10 million building if they could “prove” that they were safe according to standards of proof set by Ayyadurai himself (GM foods do of course undergo safety assessments that are more rigorous and thorough than assessments of any other food crop in history). In 2016, Ayyadurai promised to donate $10 million to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign if she could disprove his research. Clinton failed to take up the offer, which is presumably proof that there is a conspiracy somewhere.
Ayyadurai is, of course, anti-vaccine, and a central component of his COVID-19 conspiracy theories concern vaccines: “Vaccines are highly profitable. So when I connect the dots, it is essentially about moving this entire [world], using sometimes fear mongering to move it, to mandated vaccines for everyone,” says Ayyadurai, who is not very good at connecting dots.
But Ayyadurai was an antivaxxer long before COVID-19, too, and even something of a rising star in the antivaxx movement, traveling around and giving anti-vaccine talks to concerned parents in yoga studies where he would repeat most of the standard antivaccine tropes and myths, even including suggesting that vaccines cause autism, which they do not, and a range of autoimmune disorders, despite the overwhelming evidence that there is zero link between vaccines and autoimmune disorders. He also, of course, claimed that vaccines haven’t been properly tested (utter nonsense), and even employed the well-known and thoroughly silly argumentum ad package insert. There is a good takedown of his antivaccine misconceptions here, as well as his strange misconceptions and conspiracy theories about how science and the peer review process works – things one would think that someone with several degrees from MIT would be familiar with. Of course, one motivation for going full conspiracy theorist, as he does, is that scientists and a full body of published research consistently disagree with his confused speculations, and people like Ayyadurai would never stop to ponder whether, when all the experts disagree with them, they might be the ones who are wrong.
According to Ayyadurai, “QuackAdemia is modern academia – spits out the best & retains weak reptilian, spineless lemmings who prostitute for grants, attack discourse & debate, bow to Climate Change hoax, the GMOs are Safe Hoax, the ‘Gun Violence’ is caused by guns Hoax, etc. What should be done?” Oh, yes: he is also a climate change denialist. And apparently the idea that guns are involved in gun violence is a hoax.
Indeed, Ayyadurai is even an HIV denialist, and has claimed that the idea that HIV causes AIDS is “fake science”, expressing instead admiration for infamous HIV denialist Peter Duesberg. He also rejects the treatment of HIV using antiretroviral drugs, which have turned what used to be a terminal condition into a chronic and manageable disease, advocating instead, like he does for the coronavirus, a handwavy “systems approach” which focuses on the immune system and is ostensibly very “complex”. Ayyadurai is, as we might have mentioned before, not a medical doctor.
In 2018, Ayyadurai ran for Senate against Elizabeth Warren on a platform of incoherent but strikingly Trumpian anti-elitism, including accusing Warren of being at the top of a U.S. “neo–caste system” composed of “academics, career politicians and lawyer/lobbyists”, a “spineless clan” who never expect to be challenged by down-to-earth, rich conspiracy theorists like himself. According to himself, he would take a science and engineering perspective on problem solving, though given his understanding of science it is somewhat open what that would imply (at least he did say that Warren’s criticism of Trump and of Republican healthcare plans are signs of mental unbalance). During his campaigns, which were propped up by fake Facebook accounts, he repeatedly accused the “establishment” of wanting to block attendance to his rallies (e.g. “free speech” rallies organized by the Proud Boys) by using the nefarious and oppressive weapon of criticism, and to seek a “Race War to divide us” just because he was promoting white supremacists and palled around with white supremacist trolls like Matthew Colligan. (Ayyadurai described Colligan as “one of our greatest supporters”.) Among his campaign merchandise were even pins featuring “Groyper”, an icon popular with white nationalists but otherwise pretty obscure. He also made frequent appearances on InfoWars to promote himself. He might have tried to appeal to non-white voters with his claim that “we are all n*** on the White Liberal Deep State Reservation!” (he spelled the word out), but it wasn’t particularly successful. (He lost.)
He ran again for the Republican nomination in the 2020 U.S. Senate election. When his primary campaign was unsuccessful, he promptly declared fraud, falsely alleging that over one million ballots had been destroyed and that the state committed election fraud, presumably because that’s what people on his team do when they lose an election.
During his campaigns, he spread QANON conspiracy theories using the “WWG1WGA” moniker, a familiar abbreviation of the QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all”. Yes, the alleged inidividualism of these freedom lovers has some notable drone qualities.
Diagnosis: At least he has managed to synthesize virtually all the major forms of woo, denialism and conspiracy theories, from climate change denialism through Qanon to immune system boosting and anti-GMO conspiracies, which have traditionally been associated with very different positions on the political spectrum. As such, Shiva Ayyadurai has emerged as something of a voice of contemporary neo-wingnuttery. Given the current mindrot that is the American right, we expect to see far more of him in the future.