The Wall Street Journal‘s Editorial Board decries Francis Collins’s and Anthony Fauci’s loathsome quest to silence the voices of scientists who dared to dissent from the government’s and media’s official Covid narrative. Two slices:
In public, Anthony Fauci and Francis Collins urge Americans to “follow the science.” In private, the two sainted public-health officials schemed to quash dissenting views from top scientists. That’s the troubling but fair conclusion from emails obtained recently via the Freedom of Information Act by the American Institute for Economic Research.
The tale unfolded in October 2020 after the launch of the Great Barrington Declaration, a statement by Harvard’s Martin Kulldorff, Oxford’s Sunetra Gupta and Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya against blanket pandemic lockdowns. They favored a policy of what they called “focused protection” of high-risk populations such as the elderly or those with medical conditions. Thousands of scientists signed the declaration—if they were able to learn about it. We tried to give it some elevation on these pages.
That didn’t please the lockdown consensus enforced by public-health officials and the press. Dr. Collins, the director of the National Institutes of Health until Sunday, sent an email on Oct. 8, 2020, to Dr. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“This proposal from the three fringe epidemiologists . . . seems to be getting a lot of attention – and even a co-signature from Nobel Prize winner Mike Leavitt at Stanford. There needs to be a quick and devastating published take down of its premises,” Dr. Collins wrote. “Is it underway?”
These researchers weren’t fringe and neither was their opposition to quarantining society. But in the panic over the virus, these two voices of science used their authority to stigmatize dissenters and crush debate. A week after his email, Dr. Collins spoke to the Washington Post about the Great Barrington Declaration. “This is a fringe component of epidemiology,” he said. “This is not mainstream science. It’s dangerous.” His message spread and the alternative strategy was dismissed in most precincts.
Dr. Fauci replied to Dr. Collins that the takedown was underway.
Focused protection of nursing homes and other high-risk populations remains the policy road not taken during the pandemic. Perhaps this strategy wouldn’t have prevailed if a debate had been allowed. But it isn’t enough to repeat, as Dr. Collins did on Fox News Sunday, that advocates are “fringe epidemiologists who really did not have the credentials,” and that “hundreds of thousands of people would have died if we had followed that strategy.”
More than 800,000 Americans have died as much of the country followed the strategy of Drs. Collins and Fauci, and that’s not counting the other costs in lost livelihoods, shuttered businesses, untreated illnesses, mental illness from isolation, and the incalculable anguish of seeing loved ones die alone without the chance for a family to say good-bye.
Rather than try to manipulate public opinion, the job of health officials is to offer their best scientific advice. They shouldn’t act like politicians or censors, and when they do, they squander the public’s trust.
CHAFFETZ: Matt, thank you very much. All right. My next guest was one of the targets of Fauci and Collins smear campaign. Joining me now is Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, Stanford School of Medicine Professor and original signer of the Great Barrington Declaration. Thank you so much.
You got your medical degree from Stanford, you’ve been with Stanford for more than 20 years. I’d hardly call you somebody on the fringe. But I heard what Dr. Collins tried to characterize what this declaration said and it seemed to be he got it entirely wrong.
DR. JAY BHATTACHARYA, STANFORD SCHOOL OF MEDICINE: No, he straight up lied. He basically said that we wanted the virus to spread – rip through the population. And Dr. Fauci said the same thing, we – it was a let it rip strategy.
Anyone that reads the Great Barrington Declaration, you can go look online, there’s not – that phrase does not appear in it. Because the central idea of the Great Barrington Declaration is focused protection of the vulnerable. There’s thousand fold difference in the risk of severe outcomes.
We know the elderly and old people and certain people with chronic diseases have high risk of that outcomes if they infected. So the Great Barrington Declaration said let’s focus our attention on protecting those people.
At the same time, the lockdowns were harming so many other people, especially kids, who were locked out of school, especially poor kids. And so we argued for opening up society for the rest of us while protecting the vulnerable. What I was expecting was an honest discussion. Instead, what we got was lies from the head of the NIH. It was absolutely shocking.
CHAFFETZ: Did you ever think that they would actually target you? I mean, they wanted a quote unquote, “devastating response” and takedown of what you were advocating. And it wasn’t just you, there’s scientists from all over the world that were signing on to this.
BHATTACHARYA: Yes, tens of thousands of scientists and doctors signed on to this. You know, the problem here is that of Dr. Collins sits on top of over $40 billion worth of money that go to other scientists to fund research.
When he says he wants a devastating takedown, well, he has the resources to go find people to do that. And you can see from the strategy that they use, they essentially went to friendly press, spread their propaganda and lies about the Great Barrington Declaration in order to not engage with the ideas in it.
They didn’t actually take down its premises. If they thought that it was impossible to protect the vulnerable, well they should have said that. What they actually had – the major problem was that it – the Great Barrington Declaration correctly pointed out the enormous collateral harms from the lockdown policies we followed.
Every single person listening to this knows those harms intimately – isolation, people who lost their businesses, people lost their – going to the doctor for cancer screening. In poor countries tens of millions of people are starving as a consequence of lockdown. They didn’t want to address those harms. And so instead they engaged a propaganda campaign.
One big difference between Scott, on the one hand, and Bryan and me, on the other, is over how hard it is to be masked. Scott writes:
Wearing a mask is a pain? All I can say is if you think that’s a major problem, I wish I could have your life!!
But that’s not analysis; that’s just Scott telling us his own subjective valuation. As I noted above, Scott rightly is skeptical of Bryan’s use of survey data to measure people’s attitudes to life under Covid. But at least Bryan had a sample size of 476. That’s 475 more than Scott’s sample size. In a comment responding to “DeservingPorcupine,” Scott says, “And when people talk about the awful suffering involved in wearing a mask, all I can do is roll my eyes.” In other words, Scott admits that he really doesn’t take seriously people’s thoughts and feelings about wearing masks. What matters is his subjective valuation.
“The end of the pandemic will not be televised,” write Princeton historian David Robertson and University of Maryland pharmacy professor Peter Doshi in the health care journal BMJ. “There is no universal definition of the epidemiological parameters of the end of a pandemic,” they point out. “By what metric, then, will we know that it is actually over?”
After reviewing the history of three 20th century influenza pandemics, including the Spanish Flu pandemic that killed an estimated 675,000 Americans, Robertson and Doshi find that there will be no dramatic “end.” Instead, the pandemic will “gradually fade as society adjusts to living with the new disease agent and social life returns to normal.”
Robertson and Doshi point out that the tolls of previous pandemics were not recorded with daily updates on digital dashboards that anyone can easily access through the internet. “Pandemic dashboards provide endless fuel, ensuring the constant newsworthiness of the covid-19 pandemic, even when the threat is low,” they argue. “In doing so, [pandemic dashboards] might prolong the pandemic by curtailing a sense of closure or a return to pre-pandemic life.” Their advice? “Deactivating or disconnecting ourselves from the dashboards may be the single most powerful action towards ending the pandemic.”
I was of the opinion that Trump should have fired Fauci in April 2020. It would have given him a couple weeks of awful press, but Fauci would have been forgotten by mid-summer and – more importantly – out of power.
There are several factors behind the left’s enthusiasm for lockdowns: skewed risk perceptions; the ideology of safetyism; a preference for prioritising health over the economy (including ‘our NHS’). However, one reason that hasn’t received much attention is the growing strain of left-wing authoritarianism.
In a paper published last December, Joseph Manson explored the influence of left and right-wing authoritarianism on people’s attitudes to lockdowns and other restrictions. ‘Right-wing authoritarianism’ is a well-known construct in psychology, but ‘left-wing authoritarianism’ is relatively new.
The latter phenomenon had not received much attention in psychology until recently, most likely because of the discipline’s left-wing skew.
Those who scored high on left-wing authoritarianism were particularly likely to say that governments should have the power to prohibit misinformation, and that politicians should be able to introduce new restrictions without consulting legislative bodies.
There were also areas of agreement. As Manson notes, both right and left-wing authoritarians favoured “restrictions on the right to protest, punishment without the right to trial by jury, and surveillance via a mandatory tracking app”.
Regardless of one’s view on the pandemic restrictions, there can be no doubt that many of them have an authoritarian character. And even if their impact in the short run was positive (something of which I am doubtful), the possibility that they will be misused by governments in the future remains troubling.
We may not fear omicron (I certainly don’t, it seems to bear a remarkable resemblance to the condition formerly known as “a cold”), but we dare not catch it and risk being told to isolate for 10 days or giving it to elderly relatives.
My young adult children, who both live in London, have foregone parties and trips to the pub with their mates because Covid is rife in the capital and their greatest dread is bringing the virus home to Grandma. Astonishingly, my 80-something mother has overcome enormous fears, stoked nightly by BBC news, and escaped from South Wales (tunneling out of Colditz was a doddle by comparison) to be with us. On Wednesday morning, my sister and brother-in-law should land at Heathrow after an even more heroic escape from Australia. I am holding my breath until I actually see them. A family reunion will never have felt more miraculous.
It shouldn’t be like this, it really shouldn’t. The number of hospitalisations and deaths did not justify the introduction of Plan B, let alone Plan C for which Sage lockdown zealots continue to agitate.
Mikko Packalen tweets: (HT Jay Bhattacharya)
Lockdowns -> use resources to protect the laptop class.
Focused protection -> use resources to protect the most vulnerable (elderly).