When health experts who dissented from the political class’s preferred COVID-19 narrative spoke up, their views faced active suppression. This set a dangerous precedent. For years, the government has been regulating and mandating various aspects of health care in America. However, the suppression and professional attacks on dissenters during the COVID-19 pandemic took on unique features.
Early in the pandemic, it seemed the information we were getting was unfiltered. Then two things happened. First, our expert class convinced us all to huddle in our homes for 30 days, beginning with 15 Days to Slow the Spread. Then, President Donald Trump mentioned he was hopeful about treatment with hydroxychloroquine and remdesivir.
At that point, everything started to change. I never understood why Dr. Anthony Fauci did not acknowledge hydroxychloroquine’s potential, even though the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had research from 2005 indicating such. The pharmacology of the drug in combination with zinc against RNA viruses like COVID-19 was also well known.
However, providers advocating the treatment also came under fire. By the end of July, America’s Frontline Doctors posted a video supporting outpatient treatment with HCQ and ending lockdowns which all of the major social media platforms deleted. One prominent member of the group, Dr. Simone Gold, was fired from her job for participating in the press conference. Renowned Yale epidemiologist Dr. Harvey Risch analyzed available studies and stated that the improvement seen in early outpatient treatment with HCQ could not be a statistical error. After advocating for its widespread outpatient use, he was trashed by Dr. Fauci personally and receded from the public discourse.
The medical journal Lancet also published a study with bogus data regarding the drug. They later had to retract it, but by then, the damage was done. The NIH and WHO canceled studies of the drug, and governors, pharmacy boards, and medical systems started prohibiting the use of HCQ for COVID-19. These actions were unprecedented. Doctors have always had the right to use an FDA-approved drug at the same dose off-label without oversight. For a drug with the safety profile of HCQ that already had several off-label uses, prescribing a five-day course for COVID-19 should have been uncontroversial. Yet, pharmacists refused to fill it, and medical boards threatened to pull medical licenses over it.
The same thing happened to anyone who questioned the efficacy of lockdowns that extended long past the 15 days pitched initially by the health bureaucracy. Two doctors in California called for an end to lockdowns in late April based on available data, and YouTube banned the content. Then Stanford professor Jay Bhattacharya and the Great Barrington Declaration’s authors were attacked for calling for lockdowns to end. However, no dissenter took more abuse for questioning the Gospel of St. Fauci than Dr. Scott Atlas, a health policy expert from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.
Dr. Atlas became a health policy advisor to President Trump in August 2020. He has only begun to speak out on his experience and the attempts to destroy him personally. In a recent speech at Hillsdale College, he was brutally honest about the resistance he faced from colleagues, the media, and the government health experts. He noted:
The pandemic has been a tragedy, no doubt. But it has exposed profound issues in America that now threaten the very principles of freedom and order that we Americans too often take for granted.
First, I must say that I was shocked at the enormous power of the government to unilaterally decree, to simply close businesses and schools, restrict personal movement, mandate behavior and eliminate our most basic freedoms without any end.
And second, I was and I remain stunned and a little bit frightened at the acquiescence of the American people to these destructive, arbitrary, and wholly unscientific rules, restrictions, and mandates.
This crisis also exposed what we have all known existed, but we tolerated, all though I think Hillsdale didn’t tolerate it as much as everyone else. But the rest of the country tolerated for years the bias of the media, the suppression of academic freedom on campuses, the lack of neutrality in Big Tech, and now, more obviously than ever, the politicization of science.
Ultimately the freedom to seek and state the truth is at risk here in the United States.
Atlas described the restrictions that were put in place all over the country for nearly a year and provided data to emphasize that Americans, on the whole, were complying with them. Yet, these measures never controlled the virus. In hindsight, he believes there should be a disciplined review of the measures taken due to the detrimental effects we already know about and those we will indeed confront. Yet, none of the actions taken succeeded in saving the elderly who were at risk. He also detailed how his recommendations, positions, and assertions were mischaracterized, which led to calls for him to suffer professional consequences. Dr. Atlas argues that the attacks on him were over politics, not science:
One must ask the question: why would accusers also ignore my explicit, emphatic public denials about supporting the spread of the infection unchecked to achieve herd immunity – denials quoted widely in the media. Are not my own statements the object of their criticism in the first place? Or is it due to a desire to “cancel” anyone who accepted the call, who had the audacity to help this country under President Trump?
His job was to take the available research on COVID-19 and recommend the best public policy, taking the physical health, mental health, social and economic impacts of all options into account. According to Atlas, it is a much broader view than “that of epidemiologists and basic scientists who you see on T.V. every day.” From any number of dissenters, that more comprehensive perspective is what Americans were not allowed to hear unless they hunted for it. Even then, it could vanish from the dominant platforms if it didn’t meet the arbitrary and ever-changing guidelines of the WHO and the CDC. Or St. Anthony Fauci.
Suppressing relevant information caused real damage. The ability of competent doctors to practice as they deem appropriate has never been so restricted. Rigorous scientific debate, which any similar crisis will require in the future, is also on precarious footing. In hindsight, it is easy to believe that lockdowns and other draconian measures were implemented for political advantage once our political class figured out they could get away with it. Restricting dissenters deprived Americans of the information they needed to resist these measures. Dr. Atlas said as much:
We should also fear that the concept of “the science” has been seriously damaged. Even the best journals in the world – NEJM, Lancet, Science, and Nature – have become contaminated by politics and published bad science. That adds to the public’s confusion, and it diminishes trust in experts. By now, many in the public have simply become fatigued by the arguments. That reaction is even worse, because widespread fatigue will allow fallacy to triumph over truth.
Dr. Atlas’s remarks are worth listening to and sharing to create a broader understanding of the moment we are in as a nation.