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Defending Scott Atlas

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Here’s a letter to a woman who scolds me whenever, at my blog, I cite Scott Atlas approvingly.

Ms. D___:

You’re the fourth person to send to me the FT’s ‘interview’ of Dr. Scott Atlas [2]. I’m much less impressed with the ‘interview’ than you are. It’s more of a hit piece on Atlas than an objective report of his views on Covid-19 and lockdowns.

I have now neither the time nor patience to give the ‘interview’ the full evisceration that it deserves. So let’s look at one key point – namely, ‘reporter’ Kiran Stacey’s attempt to discredit Atlas for endorsing the Swedish government’s famously light reaction to Covid.

After documenting his grilling of Atlas on Sweden and getting answers that he didn’t like, Stacey wrote:

Would he at least say that Sweden largely followed his blueprint, and so its success or failure reflects on whether he is right? “I don’t know. I haven’t made an effort to look in detail at everything that Sweden did.”

I am surprised by Atlas’s lack of familiarity with the Swedish case, not least because it had been a cause célèbre among lockdown sceptics….

Given the earlier grilling – during which, by the way, Atlas revealed that he in fact suffers no “lack of familiarity with the Swedish case” – Atlas appears to me to have sensibly avoided falling into what might have been a trap set by Stacey. If Atlas had answered “yes” to Stacey’s question, he’d have put himself at risk of Stacey finding some difference between the details of Sweden’s actions and what Stacey calls Atlas’s “blueprint.” A reporter as obviously hostile to Atlas as is Stacey would likely have highlighted these differences, however minor, and then inflated these into a charge that Atlas is so unfamiliar with Sweden that all that the Doctor says on the matter should be ignored.

More importantly, on the substance of the Swedish case: The data support Atlas, not Stacey. As shown in Our World in Data [3], the pattern over time in daily Covid deaths per million in Sweden tracks quite closely the pattern of daily Covid deaths per million in the U.K., even though the U.K. has suffered far harsher lockdowns than has Sweden. Indeed – and despite Sweden having at the start of Covid an unusually large amount of “dry tinder” [4] – the percentage of Swedes who’ve so far died of Covid (0.13) is lower than is the percentage of Brits (0.19) who’ve done the same.*

So, no, the FT’s ‘report’ on Dr. Atlas does nothing to diminish my respect for him. But it does diminish my respect for the FT.

Sincerely,
Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
and
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA 22030

* Calculated from data easily gotten by Googling the population of both Sweden and the U.K., as well as the number of Covid deaths to date in each of these countries.

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