Last month this journal [the BMJ], which is published by the British Medical Association, published a deranged smear against AIER over our involvement in the conference that produced the Great Barrington Declaration. Authored by Professors Gavin Yamey and David Gorski, along with graduate student Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz, the commentary asserts that “AIER is funded through an investment fund that itself owns shares in tobacco companies and many organizations that stood to lose enormous amounts of money if the United States were to have enacted further lockdowns in 2020.” “This represents a large intellectual and financial [Conflict of Interest] for the AIER,” the authors continue, implying that our principled stance against lockdowns was really just a greedy ploy to increase the bottom line of tobacco companies. Far from an aberration caused by lax editorial oversight, the BMJ has now repeatedly published attacks by this same trio of authors, or some combination thereof, as they advance similar allegations of financial conspiracy by AIER and the GBD.
On what basis, then, do Yamey et al stake their claim? It comes from an intentional misrepresentation of AIER’s finances. Our assets are invested and independently managed by our financial subsidiary. Some of those assets are invested in market-indexed mutual funds which, in turn, contain stocks in a diversified array of companies. Just like your company’s 401K or your Roth IRA, those assets include small percentages of stocks of large publicly traded firms like Chevron, Exxon-Mobil, and Philip Morris. And that, apparently, makes us “funded” by Big Oil and Big Tobacco in the eyes of the BMJ authors.
The claim that simple stock ownership through a mutual fund somehow places you on the payroll of Big Tobacco and Big Oil would be risible in any other circumstance.
Indeed, it is the BMJ’s own published policy to specifically exclude “mutual funds or other situations in which the person is not in a position to control investment decisions” from its financial conflict of interest reporting requirements in published scientific research. This exclusion stems from a longstanding convention in the scientific community. The fact that you have a standard retirement account is not disqualifying of your research, because these instruments are specifically designed to maintain diversified and independently managed investments. The National Institutes of Health and most other agencies involved in medical research have similar exemptions for mutual funds and related investment vehicles. Stated differently, a mutual fund is specifically designed to ensure the long-term stability and growth of the portfolio as a whole – not to induce and manipulate short-term gains for a couple of individual stocks among the hundreds of companies that it holds.
In publishing the attacks on AIER’s finances by Yamey, Gorski, and Meyerowitz-Katz, The BMJ accordingly violated its own policy standards for financial conflict of interest reporting. When I contacted one of its editors, Adrian Aldcroft, to express concerns about this blatant disregard of scientific norms and publishing ethics in his journal, he responded dismissively. Disregarding his own journal’s policy, Aldcroft reiterated Yamey et al’s charge: “you do not deny that AIER is funded via an investment fund that holds shares in many corporations including tobacco companies.” When I pointed out that it was both absurd and patently offensive to accuse us of profiteering on behalf of tobacco companies over our criticism of the COVID-19 lockdowns, he answered that this was simply the “the opinion of the authors” even though the trio had explicitly characterized them in their published commentary as statements of fact.
National Review‘s – and GMU Econ alum – Dominic Pino likes Matthew Hennessey’s book The Visible Hand. Here’s Dominic’s conclusion:
And so, the invisible hand becomes visible in our daily lives. You can start at faith, or you can start at empiricism, but the key is letting each inform the other through curiosity and a sense of wonder. Hennessey models that well in Visible Hand, producing a rock-solid defense of free markets and free people.
One of the strengths of Leef’s book is understanding what motivates Jen. Like us, she navigates a forced binary world of viewing all political choices in Marvel comics terms. Every policy question about which people may reasonably differ, which involve trade-offs, is instead seen through an apocalyptic lens of Good vs. Evil, and the fate of the entire world hinges on the choice. With so much at stake, persuasion is abandoned, and victory “by any means necessary” becomes all that matters.
My late, great monetary theory and macroeconomics professor Leland Yeager very much admired the work of Clark Warburton. Jim Dorn – who was also among Leland’s students – writes here about Warburton.