From the Brownstone Institute
It’s been a continuing mystery for three years, at least to me but many others too. In October 2020, in the midst of a genuine crisis, three scientists made a very short statement of highly public health wisdom, a summary of what everyone in the profession, apart from a few oddballs, believed only a year earlier. The astonishing frenzy of denunciation following that document’s release was on a level I’ve never seen before, reaching to the highest levels of government and flowing through the whole of media and tech. It was mind-boggling.
For proof that nothing in the document was particularly radical, look no further than the March 2, 2020, letter from Yale University signed by 800 top professionals. It warned against quarantines, lockdowns, closures, and travel restrictions. It said such extreme measures “can undermine public trust, have large societal costs and, importantly, disproportionately affect the most vulnerable segments in our communities.” That document appeared only two weeks before the lockdowns announced by the Trump administration.
That was the period of the grant amnesia. The conventional wisdom turned on a dime toward full backing of regime priorities, a shift more extreme and mind boggling that anything in dystopian fiction.
Seven months later, the Great Barrington Declaration said something very similar to the Yale document. It was a summary statement concerning what governments and society should and should not do during pandemics. They should seek to allow everyone to live as normally as possible in order to avoid guaranteed damage from coerced disruptions. And the vulnerable population – those who would experience medically significant impacts from exposure – should be protected from exposure insofar as doing so is consistent with human rights and choice.
It was nothing particularly novel, much less radical. Indeed, it was accepted wisdom the year before and for the previous century. The difference this time, however, is that the statement was released during the wildest and most destructive science experiment in modern times. The existing policy of lockdowns was utter wreckage: of businesses, schools, churches, civic life, and freedom itself. Masks were being forced on the whole population, including children. Governments were attempting a regime of test, track, trace, and isolate, as if there were ever any hope of containing a respiratory pathogen with a zoonotic reservoir.
The carnage was everywhere already and obvious from a look at every downtown of every city in the US. Stores were boarded up. The streets were mostly empty. The professional class was hunkered down, binging on streaming and gaming services, while the working class was hustling everywhere to deliver groceries to doorsteps. In short, insanity had broken out.
Several groups of doctors had already made strong statements against the goings on, including the frontline doctors group on Capitol Hill and the brilliant Bakersfield doctors, among many individuals. However, they were quickly shot down by major media and blasted for failing to support the great undertaking. Even that was astonishing to watch unfold. It didn’t matter how exalted the reputations of the doctors or scientists were. They were all shot down, more or less instantly, as crazies and cranks.
It was like living in a horror house of mirrors where nothing appears as it is supposed to. At the time, I chalked it all up to mass confusion, cultural amnesia, bad education, government overreach, media ignorance, or just some general tendency of humanity to go mad that I had not previously seen in my lifetime but had only known from history books.
Several top epidemiologists felt the same way. They were Martin Kulldorff from Harvard, Jay Bhattacharya from Stanford, and Sunetra Gupta from Oxford. Together they wrote a very short statement in hopes of bringing public officials and common people back to good sense and rationality. We had the idea of putting it online and inviting others to sign. We were racing against time because there were several interviews coming up. Lucio Saverio-Eastman, now with Brownstone, skipped a nights’ sleep to create the website. He tells the story here.
The blowback began within hours. It was really something to behold. Twitter accounts came out of nowhere to smear the document and its producers and the institution that hosted the event where the scientists explained their thinking. The calumnies and attacks were coming in so quickly that it was impossible to respond. The website itself was subject to open and admitted sabotage, with fake names. That required some fast patches and new levels of security.
It was a storm of frenzy the likes of which I had never seen. It’s one thing to object to a point of view but this was next-level. The hit pieces were pouring out of huge venues, almost as if they had been ordered from the top. Much later we found out that they had in fact been ordered: Francis Collins, the head of National Institutes of Health, called for a “quick and devastating takedown” of the document.
When that revelation came out, it didn’t make much sense to me. I get that this view had become what seemed to be a minority view but how do you “take down” the public health wisdom of one hundred years? The GBD was not the outlying position; the lockdowns were the radical move that never had a scientific justification. They were just imposed as if they were normal even though everyone knew they were not.
Lately we’ve been flooded with more information that starts to make sense of this puzzle. As Rajeev Venkayya had told me the previous April, the whole point of the lockdowns was to wait for the vaccine. Frankly, I didn’t believe him at the time. I should have. After all, it was he who had invented the idea of lockdowns, worked for the Gates Foundation as head of its vaccine advisory, and then moved to a vaccine company thereafter. If anyone knew the real plan, it was he.
In the meantime, we now know there was then being built a vast censorship machinery involving the federal government, outposts as universities such as Stanford and Johns Hopkins, tech companies, and media embeds in all important outlets. It was not only being built but being deployed in order to craft the public mind in ways that would maintain the spirit of fear and the reality of lockdowns until the magic inoculation arrived. The whole plot sounds straight out of a bad Hollywood movie, but it was a plot being enacted in real life.
Think here of the timing of the Great Barrington Declaration. It came out barely a month before the election, after which the plan from the top was to release the vaccine, presumably after the sitting president was defeated. That way the new president could get the credit for the distribution stage and thus would the pandemic end.
The underlying dynamic of the timing of the release of the GBD – we had no clue at all that this was going on – worked utterly to subvert the entire censorship regime. The perception too was that this document would undermine vaccine acceptance. At that point in the great plan, all focus was on molding the public mind toward mass jabbing. That meant cultivating among the population the appearance of expert unity.
“Keeping these measures in place until a vaccine is available will cause irreparable damage, with the underprivileged disproportionately harmed,” said the document. “As immunity builds in the population, the risk of infection to all – including the vulnerable – falls. We know that all populations will eventually reach herd immunity – i.e. the point at which the rate of new infections is stable – and that this can be assisted by (but is not dependent upon) a vaccine. Our goal should therefore be to minimize mortality and social harm until we reach herd immunity.”
Further, “the most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk.”
Reading those words today, in light of what we now know, we can start to make sense of the sheer panic at the top. Natural infection and immunity? Can’t talk about that. The end of the pandemic is not “dependent upon” the vaccine? Can’t say that either. Go back to normal for all populations without significant medical risk? Unsayable.
You need only reflect on the astounding barrage of vaccine propaganda that began immediately upon release, the attempt to mandate it on the whole population and now the addition of the Covid jab to the childhood schedule even though children are of near zero risk. This is all about product sales, as you can easily discern from the unrelenting ad videos made by the new head of the CDC.
As for the product effectiveness itself, there seems to be no end to the ensuing problems. It was not a sterilizing inoculation, and it appears that the manufacturers always knew that. It could not stop infection or transmission. The hazards associated with it were also known early on. Every day, the news gets more grim: in the latest revelation, the CDC seems to have kept two separate books on vaccine injury, one public (showing harms without precedent but which has been deprecated by officials) and one yet to be released.
Even now, therefore, there is every effort being made to keep a lid on what surely ranks as the greatest failure/scandal in the modern history of public health. Some brave experts called it out before the whole calamity unfolded even further.
The problem with the Great Barrington Declaration was not that it was not true. It’s that – unbeknownst to its authors – it flew in the face of one of the most funded and elaborate industrial plots in the history of governance. Just a few sentences sneaking through the wall of censorship they were carefully constructing was enough to threaten and eventually dismantle the best laid plans.
Sometimes just telling the plain truth in well-timed ways is all it takes.
Witnessing the Media’s Covid Coverage from the Inside
From the Brownstone Institute
If right-leaning outlets wanted my words and left-leaning ones did not, my Occam’s razor landed on ideology as the explanatory factor. So-called progressive media had a story to uphold and rejected any plot twist that threatened the cohesion of its narrative.
In the movie An Education, the main character gets sidetracked from her studies by a smooth-talking art dealer who turns out to be a criminal—and married. Our protagonist learns more from that experience than from all the medieval literature books she cracked open before. I have similar feelings about my own education. While I’ve been earning my living as a writer for the past 29 years, it’s only during the Covid era that I learned what the writing business is really about.
I wear two hats in my professional life: medical writer, creating materials for doctors and the healthcare industry, and feature-article journalist for consumer magazines. It wasn’t until Covid that I began pitching essays and op-eds for publication.
I started with a piece called “A Tale of Two Pandemic Cities,” which grew out of my short trip to Amsterdam and Stockholm in the summer of 2020, when the European Union opened its doors to “well-behaved” countries like Canada. The Covid hysteria in my country had made me desperate to visit more balanced parts of the world, and my trip didn’t disappoint. The article found a home at a Canadian outlet called Healthy Debate, though the editor asked me to temper my enthusiasm for the Swedish strategy with an acknowledgement of its risks. Happy to find a legit publisher for my first Covid piece, I capitulated, sort of. (You can judge for yourself.)
Thus began a feverish outpouring of essays, each one motivated by the same bewildered questions: What the hell is happening to the world, and why? Has everyone else gone mad, or is it me? I had written a few controversial articles throughout my career, but never before had I held a “dissenting view” about an issue that affected the whole world—or felt such an urgent need to express it.
The Great Divide
I quickly learned that certain news outlets were less open to my pieces than others. Salon, fuggedaboutit. Spiked Online, bull’s eye on the first try. Washington Post, not a chance. Wall Street Journal, a couple of “close, but no cigar” efforts and then finally a yes. It boiled down to this: the further left a publication leaned, the less likely it would publish my pieces (or even respond to my inquiries). I’m sure a statistician could write an equation to capture the trend.
So why the radio silence from left-wing publications? I doubted I was tripping their “Covid disinformation” radars, as my pieces had less to do with scientific facts than with social philosophy: the balance between safety and freedom, the perils of top-down collectivism, the abuse of the precautionary principle, that sort of thing. If right-leaning outlets wanted my words and left-leaning ones did not, my Occam’s razor landed on ideology as the explanatory factor. So-called progressive media had a story to uphold and rejected any plot twist that threatened the cohesion of its narrative. (Not that right-wing media behaved much differently. Such is the age of advocacy journalism.)
Most nerve-wracking of all were the publishers who accepted my articles but, like that first Healthy Debate editor, insisted I make substantive changes. Should I concede or push back? I did a bit of both. The most important thing, I told myself, was to make people reflect on the topsy-turvy policies that had freeze-framed the world. If I had to soften a few sentences to get the word out, so be it. I have the utmost respect for writers who refuse to yield on such matters, but 29 years of paying the bills from my writing have tipped my internal compass toward pragmatism.
I did stand my ground with an article on the mask wars. My thesis was that the endless and pointless disputes on social media—masks work, no they don’t, yes they do, no they don’t—had less to do with science than with worldview: irrespective of the data, social collectivists would find a way to defend masks, while my freedom-first compatriots would never countenance a perma-masked world.
One editor agreed to publish the piece if I mentioned that some studies favor masking, but I argued that quoting studies would undercut my central argument: that the forces powering the mask wars have little to do with how well they block viruses. He wouldn’t budge, so we parted ways and I found a more congenial home for the piece at the Ottawa Citizen.
The process of pitching counternarrative essays, while arduous at times, led me to a smorgasbord of lesser-known, high-quality publications I never would have discovered otherwise. Topping the list was the glorious UnHerd, a UK news and opinion website with such daring thinkers as Mary Harrington and Kathleen Stock on its roster of contributors. The US-based Tablet magazine offered consistently fresh takes on Covid and never took the easy road in its analyses. In its pages I found one of the most powerful Covid essays I have ever read. The author, Ann Bauer (no relation), teased out the common threads between the “settled science” about the virus and the litany of quack theories about autism, which fed into her son’s death by suicide.
Then there was Quillette, whose contempt for the sacred cows of wokeism gave me a special thrill. True confession: I blew my chances with Quillette and it’s my own damned fault. Like many working writers, I sometimes pitch a piece to more than one outlet at the same time, a practice known as simultaneous submissions. This goes against protocol—we’re supposed to wait until an editor declines our pitch before approaching the next one—but the reality is that many editors never respond. With the deck thus stacked against us, we writers sometimes push the envelope, figuring the odds of getting multiple acceptances (and thus pissing off editors) are low enough to take the risk.
On this particular occasion, I submitted an article called “Lessons from my Half-Vaxxed Daughter” to three publications. Medpage Today responded right away, and I accepted their offer to publish it. (This was while Marty Makary, the dissident-lite physician who called out people’s distorted perception of Covid risk in mainstream media, led the editorial team.) A few hours later, Quillette’s Canadian editor sent me a slightly reworked version of my piece and told me when he planned to run it. I had no choice but to proffer a red-faced apology and admit I had already placed the article elsewhere. He never responded to my email or to a follow-up mea culpa a few weeks later—and has ignored everything I’ve submitted since then. I guess I’ll have to wait until he retires.
Earlier this year, Brownstone Institute published my book Blindsight Is 2020, which critiques the pandemic response through the lens of 46 dissident thinkers. By all standards a moderate book, it stays clear of any “conspiratorial” speculations about the origins of the pandemic or the political response to it. Instead, it focuses on the philosophical and ethical issues that kept me awake at night during the peak Covid years—the same themes I explore in my essays, but in greater depth. I wrote the book not just for “my team,” but for those who vehemently opposed my views—perhaps especially for them. I didn’t expect to change their minds as much as to help them understand why some of us objected so strenuously to the policies they cheered on.
After the book came out, a few podcasters invited me to their shows. I appeared on a Libertarian Institute podcast in which the host puffed on his hand-rolled cigarettes while we talked. I spoke to an amiable ex-con podcaster who made it his mission to share Ayn Rand’s ideas with the world. I bonded with Rupa Subramanya—a brilliant Canadian conservative journalist and podcaster featured in my book—over the Freedom Convoy we had both supported.
All told I’ve appeared on 22 podcasts to date, each of them hosted by a right-leaning or libertarian host. Crickets from the left. Not one to accept defeat, I’ve begun reaching out to left-leaning podcasters on my own. Perhaps one day I’ll hear back from them.
Covid media, like so much else in modern life, has become hopelessly fractured: the tall, left-facing trees dominate the landscape, telling the story of a deadly virus that we “did the best we could” to manage. Below the tree canopy lies the tangle of weeds that sway in the wind, whispering songs of freedom and warning against the totalitarian impulses that all too readily emerge during crises. While I’ll continue to throw my essays at those unyielding trees, the messy underbrush is where I’ve found my journalistic home.
Why So Many Countries Followed China’s Lockdown Example
From the Brownstone Institute
The answer to why countries followed China’s lockdowns is simple. They were told to do so by the World Health Organization (WHO). Why did the WHO tell them to do that? You might want to ask Dr. Bruce Aylward
A novel coronavirus that was 10 times deadlier than the flu had gripped the world in 2019. Without a compass to navigate the Covid-19 pandemic, all lessons learned from previous viral pandemics were thrown out the window. The World Health Organization was adamant, “This is not the flu.” Tony Fauci terrified the US House of Representatives with forecasts of disaster. Global populations were defenseless without a vaccine for the novel coronavirus that no one had ever seen before. The only viable defense at the time was to shut down the world.
China took the lead in lockdowns. Media exported from China showed people dropping dead in the streets. Caskets were piling up. Doors to buildings were sealed to lock in tenants. Throughout the panic, all reasonable alternative assessments of risks from the viral outbreak were ignored, censored, or rejected.
Nevertheless, I wondered whether a video of a person falling down in the street was really representative of the entire population. Were caskets piling up largely due to families fearing to claim them because of contamination with the virus? I noticed that the front doors to my local mall in Ontario, Canada had also been sealed, just like in China apartment buildings, but this was only to control access through a single entrance to the building, not to seal in customers.
My first clue that the emergency response to the outbreak of the coronavirus didn’t seem to make sense was when I heard Fauci tell television audiences that if our response seems to be overreacting, then we are probably doing the right thing. What? Since when is overreacting ever the right thing to do? Do generals win wars by overreacting?
I looked at the numbers that Fauci had presented to the US House of Representatives concerning case and infection fatalities of the coronavirus. They were backwards! His 10-times deadlier prediction was simply a made-up number! This was in March 2020. By May 2020 it was obvious that people were NOT dying at the inflated rate Fauci had predicted.
I published a paper on Fauci’s coronavirus mortality overestimations: Public Health Lessons Learned From Biases in Coronavirus Mortality Overestimation. But when I mentioned all this to my friends, they responded that the lower than predicted deaths just proved the lockdowns were working. Fauci was off the hook. Back to China.
WHO/China Joint Mission on Covid-19
The answer to why countries followed China’s lockdowns is simple. They were told to do so by the World Health Organization (WHO). Why did the WHO tell them to do that? You might want to ask Dr. Bruce Aylward, the Director of the WHO/China Joint Mission on Covid-19 investigating the coronavirus outbreak.
Aylward noticed a precipitous drop in novel coronavirus pneumonia (NCP) in China during February 2020. This was before China adopted WHO’s name of coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19). Upon seeing China’s surveillance data, Aylward announced the spectacular findings to the world and told the world to do what China has done and lock down. But he appeared to make a fundamental epidemiological error by wrongly assuming that the association of China’s lockdowns with lower deaths proved the lockdowns were working (just like my friends had told me).
Soon after in March 2020, China published its latest case definitions for NCP (Covid-19). In a nutshell, the definitions showed that no one could be declared to have died of the disease unless they had viral pneumonia (a severe acute respiratory illness), and only if no other virus normally associated with viral pneumonia was present, except SARS-CoV-2.
Coinfections with the coronavirus were not acceptable criteria, and what should have been a broad surveillance case definition with high sensitivity to monitor the spread of the virus within the population narrowed down considerably into an overly specific diagnostic case definition. That pretty much sealed the deal to declare Covid-19 deaths in only single digits for many months during the pandemic throughout China. This super-low outcome impressed Dr. Bruce Aylward enough in February 2020 to implore the world to lock down. Did we ever!
In the meantime, other countries used case and death definitions that went to the opposite extreme of China’s narrow diagnostic definitions, disseminating overinflated surveillance numbers without adjusting the numbers to remove bias. Even Fauci eventually admitted that reported cases and deaths counted WITH the coronavirus are much higher than cases and deaths counted FROM the coronavirus. Ironically, the WHO had previously published material on the correct use and interpretation of surveillance and diagnostic definitions in infectious disease outbreaks. Aylward didn’t appear to get the memo.
There is more to the story. Was this even really a novel coronavirus, or just a novel genetic sequence of the coronavirus showing greater detail than previously available? China supposedly received updated genetic sequencing technology in late 2019. They had abandoned surveillance of SARS in 2003 for lack of technology.
Now they were back in business again by the end of 2019. The team of virologists that reported the genetic sequence of the virus in Wuhan noted that it would be necessary to investigate the epidemiological evidence to guide infection control responses. Who has time for that? Shut it down!
If the novel coronavirus isn’t really so novel, this would explain why the lockdowns didn’t work. We had already known that lockdowns don’t work in other viral pandemics. Even China eventually gave up its Zero Covid Policy after it was obvious that lockdowns weren’t working. My friends owe me some explanations to justify their lockdown views. Maybe Fauci isn’t off the hook after all.
For more information on biases in Covid-19 case and death definitions, see my peer-reviewed article with cited references: Biases in COVID-19 Case and Death Definitions: Potential Causes and Consequences.
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Witnessing the Media’s Covid Coverage from the Inside