On October 4, 2020, Jay Bhattacharya, Sunetra Gupta, and Martin Kulldorff posted the Great Barrington Declaration online. “As infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists, we have grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies, and recommend an approach we call Focused Protection,” the authors state. More than 925,000 individuals have signed the declaration, including over 60,000 medical and public health scientists and medical practitioners. In a February 24 interview on The Heartland Daily Podcast with AnneMarie Schieber, managing editor of Health Care News, Bhattacharya, a physician and epidemiologist at Stanford University Medical School, discussed why it took 16 months for countries, states, and cities to lift their mandates and the proper role of science in a free society. Questions and answers have been shortened for space and clarity.
Health Care News: Mandate supporters now say the science has changed regarding COVID-19, and that is why they are pulling back on their orders. Has the science changed?
Bhattacharya: The fundamental thing hasn’t changed. There’s this big age gradient in the risk, so we still should be focusing on protecting the vulnerable. This mainly means older people and some folks with chronic conditions. And I think the other part of science that hasn’t changed is that the lockdowns are ineffective and are harmful themselves.
Even back as far as October 2020—even as far back as March or April of 2020—it was a fool’s errand to think that we could control and stop this virus from spreading everywhere. We don’t have the technology to stop the spread of the virus. The vaccine doesn’t stop the spread of the virus. The lockdowns don’t stop the spread of the virus. Coming to terms with that [has] taken two years. I wish that it had happened much earlier because the harms from the lockdowns have been devastating. They’ve hurt the poor, the vulnerable, and they’ve failed to protect people from the virus itself, as they inevitably couldn’t have.
The lockdowns are essentially a luxury of a certain class of people who can afford to lockdown without losing their jobs. Not true for most of the rest of the population. And so, I am really pleased to see that the policy is finally turning.
Health Care News: You are now involved with a new organization at Hillsdale College with Scott Atlas, M.D., and Martin Kulldorff, Ph.D., called the Academy of Science and Freedom. How did the idea come about and what do you hope to accomplish?
Bhattacharya: It was a joint idea with Scott and Martin and some others. The way science has functioned during the pandemic—there have been some great advances. We’ve had a vaccine essentially in record time that does protect against severe disease.
At the same time, we’ve had a lot of weaknesses in science. The main weakness has been the capacity for scientists who disagree to talk to each other in good faith, without facing enormous headwinds from other scientists, and from the media. And it’s made it very difficult for people who disagreed with the dominant consensus to speak up. But in science, you can’t have science where people are afraid.
For example, Francis Collins [former director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH)] and Tony Fauci [director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases] essentially involved themselves in the health policy discussions about what to do with COVID. They control billions of dollars in funding, and not just the funding. If scientists can’t get funding from the NIH, their careers stagnate. They control the careers of countless numbers of scientists. And when they say that our ideas are fringe, a lot of scientists who agree with us will be afraid to speak up.
It creates a situation where science can’t be science. It can’t function. And so that’s one of the activities of [the Academy of Science and Freedom]. Our aim is to restore free discussion within science itself.
Health Care News: What would be your other aim?
Bhattacharya: The second aim is to restore the proper place of science within a free society. A lot of times during the pandemic, you’ve heard, “Well, you’re not an epidemiologist so therefore you can’t tell us what the right thing to do is in this circumstance. Don’t you know there’s a pandemic on?”
Well, you know, epidemiologists do not have a monopoly on wisdom. They do not have a monopoly on understanding the values of the people. Discussion about what the right policy is should be expanded far beyond scientists themselves. The proper place of science in a free society is to help inform people about what science shows and tells people, “Well, if you do A, here are the range of likely outcomes. If you do B, here are the other range of likely outcomes.” But science itself is a morally neutral activity. It’s doesn’t say, choose A or B. That is the proper domain of public discussion, of politics. For that, scientists have no special expertise.
“Dr. Jay Bhattacharya: Why Fee Debate is Critical to Medicine and Science,” The Heartland Daily Podcast, February 24, 2022.
Or watch the interview below.