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The Contrarians Were Right About Covid Hysteria

And the fearmongers did irreparable damage.


If you head over to “The Federalist” entry on Wikipedia, you will find, among other smears of our little operation, a “COVID-19 pandemic misinformation” section. It’s a sad reminder of how authoritarians misuse the idea of “misinformation” to quash debate and control the conversation.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic,” Wikipedia contends, “The Federalist published many pieces that contained false information, pseudoscience, and contradictions or misrepresentations of the recommendations of public health authorities.” According to Media Matters for America,” the entry goes on, “The Federalist published articles calling on the government to quickly end social distancing directions, and to open businesses again.”

To begin with, even if Federalist writers had turned out to be completely wrong about lockdowns and social distancing, calculating the tradeoffs of public policy and forming opinions that conflict with public-health officials isn’t any kind of “misinformation.” It’s the way we debate in an open society.

Public-health officials are preternaturally risk averse. They see the world through the prism of safety, often ignoring— among many other factors—personal freedoms, economic consequences, and social disruptions. Safetyism can lead to some of the worst infringements of individual rights. That is why we don’t live in a public-health dictatorship.

Or rather, why we didn’t until Covid.

The thing is, though, most of the time our writers weren’t wrong. It is now indisputable that shutdowns inflicted deep harm on children and destabilized the economy. It is also highly unlikely that, after it was clear Covid variants would continue to spread, keeping businesses closed for months saved lives.

And “social distancing” rules were definitely bunk. Fauci admitted as much in a January interview with the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic. “It sort of just appeared, that six feet is going to be the distance,” he explained.

“It sort of just appeared” doesn’t sound like the vigorous inquiry we were promised by the self-ordained pontiff of “science.” Yet anyone who dared to tread within, say, five feet of another person was accused of being in a “death cult” and often censored on social media.

One of the problems was that Fauci could never admit to being unsure of anything. Remember when he told Americans, “There’s no reason to be walking around with a mask,” and then, months later,  he wanted us wearing two of them at the same time. Yet governments almost always enacted his every suggestion.  

Fauci also admitted to lying about the threshold for herd immunity because “polls said only about half of all Americans would take a vaccine.” Worse, when three scientists — Martin Kulldorff of Harvard, Sunetra Gupta of Oxford, and Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford — released the “Great Barrington Declaration,” questioning the efficacy of lockdowns and warning, among other things, about the damaging “physical and mental health impacts” of closing schools, Fauci colluded with others to suppress the document, plotting a “quick and devastating published takedown.”

Read the declaration. They were right. He was wrong.

In any event, one of Wikipedia’s citations allegedly proving The Federalist spread social-distancing “misinformation” was written by an academic physician from an Ivy League institution who wrestled with ways to help flatten the curve. The piece is logical and cautious. It begins like so:

COVID-19 is severe. There is no doubt about that. We are now also learning that it is not a matter of if but when many of us will get coronavirus, whether we develop symptoms or not. Our only hope is to ‘flatten the curve,’ relieve stress on the medical system, and wait for a vaccine.

That sounds exactly like the framing of public-health officials before “flatten the curve” evolved into “shutter your business and shut up.”

Another Wikipedia footnote regarding “false information” leads to a completely factual opinion piece that points out that Zeke Emanuel, then named to Joe Biden’s Covid task force, had spent years arguing that people older than 75 were a suck on our resources and the elderly should be vaccinated last. Pointing out this person’s ugly positions was well within the norms of debate.

In another instance of alleged misinformation, a Federalist founder is accused of attacking the “prominent analysis from Imperial College London.” More like infamous analysis, as the model turned out to be a dubious guesstimation. Maybe it’s Wikipedia that needs a misinformation entry?

Now, I’m not contending everything The Federalist published about Covid turned out to be correct. But the alleged misinformation articles on the site are normal pieces of contrarianism. We need more of that, not less. Recall that Facebook, pressured by the government, banned any mention of the Chinese lab-leak theory, which is now widely believed to be true.

Sure, there are limits to skepticism. Reflexive disbelief of everything is no better than the opposite. It often manifests in conspiratorial thinking. But it is clear now that no one undermined trust in our public-health institutions like those who used rickety “science” to shut down businesses, churches, schools, and speech.

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