Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the American people have been told to “follow the science.” Yet for a year and a half, they’ve heard contradicting messages from self-appointed prophets of “the science” like Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
We learned that politicians who claimed their decisions were science-driven often ignored scientific findings that didn’t fit certain political narratives. We discovered that scientists are fallible human beings, and some would let personal interests and political views cloud their judgment.
Is science itself one of the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic? I asked Dr. Scott Atlas at the 13th annual Freedom Conference hosted by the Steamboat Institute, a Colorado-based nonprofit organization. Formerly a professor and chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center, Atlas is now a senior fellow in health policy at the Hoover Institution.
Atlas has been under constant attacks by the left and the corporate media since he served as a special adviser to former President Trump and a member of the White House coronavirus task force from August to November 2020. The New York Times and the Washington Post ran hit pieces on Atlas, questioning his qualifications despite his distinguished career and scholarship.
‘Science’ Destroyed Its Own Credibility
Atlas has refused to be silenced. He has a lot to say about how the scientific field and Americans’ trust in it have been tremendously harmed during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Science has been not just a victim,” he told me, “but actively participated in the self-destruction of its credibility.”
To prove his point, Atlas referred to the now infamous letter published in Lancet, which denounced the lab-leak theory as a “conspiracy” that created “fear, rumors, and prejudice.” Facebook “fact-checkers” used the letter to censor discussion of the lab-leak theory for more than a year.
It then surfaced in The Daily Mail that Peter Daszak, president of Eco Health Alliance, orchestrated a group of scientists to write the letter without disclosing the EHA’s close financial ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). Now many scientists accept that the WIV lab-leak theory is just as probable as the natural origin theory.
Atlas also faulted leading scientific publications such as Nature and Lancet for playing “important roles in enabling, encouraging, and enforcing the false narrative.” In June, journalist Ian Birrell cited one source who estimated the publisher of Nature had sponsorship agreements worth millions of dollars from Chinese institutions.
“Science is not supposed to be about intimidating, countering interpretation of data, or abusing, or censoring data,” Atlas said. “Science is not supposed to have a view. Science is only about data and the scientific process. There is never supposed to be ‘an accepted view’ of science.”
Stop Censoring the Scientific Process
Politicians and pundits also lost people’s trust by advocating regulations that were not based in fact. “The phrase ‘follow the science’ should never be uttered again by people who do not know actual data. They must stop,” Atlas said. “They have no credibility whatsoever when they get up and say, ‘follow the science.’ It’s clear many of them don’t know the science, don’t understand the science, and they are not using the science to make the recommendations.”
How can science and scientists recover from this trust deficit? “It depends on only one thing — the visibility of the scientific process, which by definition is about the visibility of the data,” Atlas said. “There should be no censorship of views and interpretation of different data. Do not intimidate or issue harsh condemnations of people just because you disagree with them. Let the truth prevail by the data.”
He has received hundreds of emails from other scientists who have encouraged him to remain outspoken while afraid to speak up themselves. “The saving of science really depend[s] on scientists to come forward and to be unafraid to say that the objectivity of science and [the] scientific process itself has been contaminated and impeded,” he continued. “When more scientists come forward, there hopefully will be a reversal of that [trust deficit]. There is no such thing as science without the evidence being visible and debates being current. Science doesn’t exist in any other way.”
How can we do a better job of fighting back the next time our ruling class tries to send us into crisis mode? We have to recognize what the data revealed about this current pandemic, Atlas said, citing several recent studies (including one by Eran Bendavid and other scientists of Stanford University) showing that lockdowns didn’t work to keep COVID-19 from spreading while imposing their own severe additional costs.
Never Let Lockdowns Destroy Lives Again
Lockdowns destroyed people, Atlas said, by “shutting down medical care, stopping people from seeking emergency medical care, increasing drug abuse, increasing death by suicide, more psychological damage, particularly among the younger generation. Hundreds and thousands of child abuse cases went unreported. Teenagers’ self-harm cases have tripled.”
Atlas also noted the increase of other deaths like tuberculosis, caused by the world’s focus on COVID-19. The World Health Organization warned in 2020 of up to an additional 400,000 deaths from tuberculosis because of the diversion of resources to COVID-19. “Mortality data showing that anywhere from a third or half of the deaths during the pandemic were not due to COVID-19,” Atlas said. “They were extra deaths due to the lockdowns.”
Besides causing health issues, the lockdowns have enormous economic costs, especially for poor people and developing countries. The Bangladesh economy’s shutdown during the pandemic, Atlas noted, was forecast to wipe out about $3 billion and close to 900,000 jobs off the nation’s economy with a devastating effect on the nation’s poor.
“We can never use the lockdown strategy again,” Atlas emphasized. Instead, we should offer targeted protections for high-risk people but no lockdowns of low-risk people. Other scientists, such as the authors of The Great Barrington Declaration, have advocated for the same approach.
Atlas offers additional advice on how to prepare for the next pandemic based on lessons learned from COVID-19 in his upcoming new book, “A Plague Upon Our House: My Fight at the Trump White House to Stop COVID from Destroying America,” which is available for preorder now.
Ultimately, Atlas said, the most important lesson to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic is that individuals must take responsibility for their own health-related decisions. We should never surrender our autonomy and capability to assess our risk tolerance to bureaucrats or the so-called expert class.