Scott Atlas, M.D., who served as President Trump’s besieged coronavirus advisor, held little back during a speech to accept an award for his courage and commitment to liberty. “It’s great to be in a crowd that’s friendly, for a change,” said Atlas.
Hillsdale College presented Atlas, a radiologist, health policy scholar, and Hoover Institute fellow, its highest honor, the Freedom Leadership Award on February 18 in Phoenix, Arizona. Atlas served the Trump Administration for four months before resigning in December. Atlas challenged the conventional approach to containing the COVID-19 virus which has focused on locking down the economy, shutting schools, and ordering the public to wear masks and social distance from one another.
Immediately, Atlas was attacked by the conventional media and academia as having “no formal experience in infectious diseases,” and being a “threat to public health.” The criticism culminated in a stinging, open letter signed by 100 of his colleagues at Stanford University for advancing “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science.” In November, the Stanford Faculty Senate voted to condemn Atlas for his tweets, one in particular when he encouraged people in Michigan to “rise up” against more lockdown orders by Governor Whitmer.
Three of those signatories then published a scathing op-ed in JAMA, on February 4, entitled “When Physicians Engage in Practices that Threaten the Nation’s Health.” Atlas had threatened to sue the signatories of the open letter, and the possibility of a lawsuit is mentioned as a postscript in the JAMA article.
Dr. Atlas Goes to Washington
Atlas told the Hillsdale audience that while the pandemic has been a deadly tragedy, it laid bare how vulnerable liberty is and how easily politics can influence science.
“First, I was shocked at the enormous power of the government to unilaterally decree, to simply close businesses and schools, restrict personal movement, mandate behavior, eliminate our most basic freedoms, without any end,” said Atlas. “And, second I was and 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.”
When Atlas arrived at the White House in mid-August, it became clear the lockdowns were not stopping cases, preventing hospitalizations, or reducing deaths. People were following the orders, Atlas said, based on social mobility tracking showing dramatic reductions in movement.
“There is no truth these mandates were not obeyed,” said Atlas.
Worse, the restrictions themselves were causing harm. Atlas recited a laundry list of pain and suffering, including missed diagnosis of cancer and heart disease, child abuse, drug abuse, anxiety, and suicide ideation. A January study by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Atlas pointed out, said the unemployment shock for the lockdowns “will generate almost 890,000 additional U.S. deaths, mostly in poor families .”
“We know we have not seen the full extent of the damage because it will last for decades,” said Atlas. “Perhaps that is why lockdowns were never recommended in previous pandemic analyses, even for infections with far higher death rates.”
While Atlas did not mention it specifically, an academic paper in 2009 to help plan for the H1N1 virus that year, described how the response to the deadly 1957-58 pandemic known as the H2N2, made it a point to keep schools and workplaces open. H2N2 lasted less than one year.
Lockdowns on Common Sense
Mask use and the push for vaccines have also challenged common sense, according to Atlas. Contrary to what’s been reported in the media, Atlas said he was never anti-mask but recognized that masks are not needed “at all times, by everyone.” Atlas said he advised the public to wear masks when they couldn’t social distance. “ Bolstering his stance was a similar recommendation early on by The National Institutes for Health. The words were “ ‘when not possible,’ but you won’t hear that on CNN,” said Atlas, adding “You may not watch CNN.”
Evidence showing little benefit from widespread mask use has been censored, said Atlas. The one large controlled study in Denmark showed as much, said Atlas, but it has been largely dismissed or ignored by mask proponents. “They are propagating false and misleading information,” said Atlas.
Atlas also took aim at the push for vaccination, especially to healthier, younger people, including children, an idea that “would put Alice in Wonderland’s mad hatter to shame.” The idea that children or teachers need to be vaccinated before entering the classroom is “Kafkaesque nonsense,” since children and teachers are at very low risk of dying from the virus. Additionally, the “TV experts” say masks and social distancing will still be needed after vaccines.
“There is no intention of those in power to allow Americans to live normally or freely again,” said Atlas.
“Toxic Smears” by Professors
Atlas saved his strongest ire for those in academia, who have vilified Atlas for being skeptical of conventional mitigation policies, comparing his experience to what Galileo once said, the real problem being, “ vested economic interests.” There is no question that universities intimidate those who hold views contrary to their own, said Atlas. “Undoubtedly, undeniably for political reasons.
Other academics have reached out, said Atlas, “who are encouraging me but afraid to step forward.” Atlas was critical of university professors who attacked him. “To employ toxic smears and opinion pieces and organized rebukes against those who disagreed with what was being implemented, but worse, who dared to help the country under a President they despised.”
The attacks by academics were repeated and amplified in the media. “We must all pray to God that the phrase attributed to Nazi propagandist, Josef Goebbels, a lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth – never becomes true in these United States.”
Behind Closed Doors
During a question and answer period with the audience, Atlas was asked, during his months at the White House how much of COVID policy was driven by science, and how much by politics.
Atlas did not specifically mention Anthony Fauci or Deborah Birx, who led the Trump COVID-19 task force but did say what he heard in the White House Situation Room was “incredible, shocking, outrageous, I’m going to have to write about that because it was amazing – the lack of knowledge, the current data.”
“These are people who are government bureaucrats who worked in government for 30 to 40 years, these are not people who are challenged intellectually by outside opinion,” said Atlas. ‘Much of what was said was politics, difficult to believe [being said].”
AnneMarie Schieber (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the managing editor of Health Care News.
(photo courtesy, Hillsdale College)