“Stay-at-home.” “Distance learning.” “Essential travel only.” In the fight against COVID-19, widespread restrictions on human activity became a norm in 2020.
But now it’s clear from the data that lockdowns not only had devastating effects on much of society, but they also failed to protect the most vulnerable, says former White House COVID advisor Dr. Scott Atlas. “There’s a big reason why lockdowns were never recommended in prior pandemics.”
Jan Jekielek: Dr. Scott Atlas, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Dr. Scott Atlas: Thanks for having me.
Mr. Jekielek: You are a public health policy expert. As far as I can tell, you have also been described as a radiologist. You’ve been described, actually, in all sorts of ways. I thought I’d give you a chance to set the record straight. Who are you professionally?
Dr. Atlas: I’m in public health policy. I’ve been doing this for 17 years as a faculty member of Stanford’s Hoover Institution, which is a policy institute. I am an MD and had a career in the past as a chief of neuro-radiology at Stanford University’s Medical Center for 13 or 14 years, but I have not been a radiologist for almost a decade.
I sort of laugh at how people have described me as a radiologist, because they don’t want to say that I am a health policy expert. In fact, that is why I was asked to come in and help, because there were no health policy experts advising the president, no one who understood the medical science as well as the policy implication of what was being done.
Mr. Jekielek: You actually raise an incredibly interesting point and important point that when looking at making decisions around a pandemic, like the one that we’re seeing, it’s not just the impact of the virus, for example, that has to be looked at. What has to be looked at?
Dr. Atlas: What is really one of the epic failures of public health experts has been “stop COVID-19 at all costs,” with no regard whatsoever for the harms or the consequences of the policies that were introduced to stop COVID-19 cases. But the consequences of the lockdowns have been enormous and enormously harmful. They will last for decades, decades after this pandemic is completely finished. So we will have a massive price to pay for what was done in the United States.
Mr. Jekielek: Let’s go to the beginnings of a pandemic. Is it fair that there were lockdowns initially? And then the next question is, how reasonable was it for those lockdowns to have stayed in place for so long?
Dr. Atlas: It is fair, in my view, for the initial lockdowns that were done that were temporary, short term, and reacting to very, very imperfect knowledge. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that the initial assessments were an enormous fatality rate from this disease on the order of 3.4 percent, the number that was initially reported.
Although, I and others had significant skepticism about that number, because it was clearly generated from looking at the people that were sick enough to seek medical attention. Therefore, it was not an infection fatality rate, it was a case fatality rate, which is very different. But in any event, the number was very high.
I was afraid myself. We’re all human beings. I bought into it, and it was appropriate given that we didn’t know much at all, that we would temporarily shut things down for what was originally a 15 day period. There were reasons why the shutdown would have been useful.
One was the idea, “Let’s stop or prevent hospitals from being overcrowded.” We saw the enormous overcrowding chaos in Italy right away. They have a very different hospital system. Frankly, they have very different cultural mores and densities and all kinds of things that make Italy not the United States. But in any event, the initial inclination was to stop this—make sure we have a handle on having hospital bed capacity, allow some resources to be mobilized, like extra beds being put up temporarily that might be used, like shifting medical personnel that might be needed, like sending and producing personal protective equipment, and perhaps even getting a start on drugs or even the vaccine issue, which of course, wouldn’t be done in 15 days.
But in any event, there was a rationale for shutting down. And everyone bought into it. Why did they buy into it? They bought into it for two reasons. Number one, fear. Fear is very powerful. It was really shown how powerful fear is during this pandemic, but they bought into that. And they bought into it because it was temporary, because 15 days, most people thought that would be a very small price to pay to get things under control, and have some handle on how to proceed.
Mr. Jekielek: What happened subsequently? I guess that’s the question, right?
Dr. Atlas: What happened was, there was a gradual but very dramatic change in the goal. The goal shifted of the people giving the advice both at the federal level and throughout the country. It shifted from stopping hospitals from being overcrowded to stopping cases. There was a loss of rational thinking. Critical thinking disappeared. A clinical medical medical perspective was gone, was never at the table.
In fact, the public health officials that were advising the country and the world, really, had no clinical medical perspective. That was revealed by their nonsensical statements. But there was a frenzy that took over, out of fear, and out of a lack of leadership by the faces of public health to put things into context, to put things into perspective, and to recognize right away what the consequences of these lockdowns would be.
There’s a big reason why lockdowns were never recommended in prior pandemics. Those rules, those simple rational logical assessments were thrown out the window.
Mr. Jekielek: What do you mean exactly by there being no clinical, medical perspective among the advisors?
Dr. Atlas: What we see, and this was pervasive on the faces of so-called experts in the media— the media itself promulgated a frenzy by highlighting exceptions, by highlighting things like “This is a novel virus.” We could start from that.
This is a coronavirus. We have decades of experience with coronaviruses. There are at least four circulating coronaviruses separate from this coronavirus in the public. What does that mean? That means a couple of things scientifically, as well as common sense. We don’t throw out all the knowledge we have about basic immunology and clinical medicine that we’ve learned from other viruses, but also from other coronaviruses.
So we have a general sense, we the public literature, the basic virology textbooks have a sense that there is, for instance, protection after you get an infection with a coronavirus for many, many months, to years. This is sort of known. It didn’t have to be reinvented. It wasn’t like we knew nothing.
Secondly, there are reasons that we could explain why certain regions on the globe didn’t necessarily have a massive problem with this coronavirus. Perhaps it was because they had previous exposure to related viruses that would confer some protection. These things were just discarded, thrown away and never spoken about.
The other thing that I mean by a lack of medical perspective, specifically, was that we had people highlighting exceptions instead of understanding that these exceptions are simply that exception.
One example of an exception was this multi-system inflammatory disorder in children that had the coronavirus. These things occur. Every virus has exceptions. Every virus has severe and rather rare consequences in certain individuals. Those rare exceptions do not negate a massive body of evidence about the general risk of say, children in this virus.
That had already accumulated by late spring. It was a frenzy on TV news about the multi-system inflammatory disorder in children. Yet no one talked about how even influenza has various severe sequelae in children as well as adults. I’ve written papers on the sequelae of influenza in the brain. All of these very severe and serious consequences that are rare, were never put forth to the American public as indeed rare.
Instead, the whole debate about school opening at one point was taken over by this rare entity of multi-system inflammatory disease in children with coronavirus, even though the overwhelming majority of children had extremely low risk from this, from this virus, from SARS2. A real clinically experienced doctor would have pointed this out.
You asked about my background. I’ve been a health policy expert for 17 years, and almost a decade of doing that full time. But I did have a 25 year career in academic medicine as a clinical, academic medical person in high level academic centers in the country—as a professor teaching, doing research and also working in the clinical setting.
When you work in a clinical setting, you understand that these exceptions are simply exceptions. They’re serious, we take everything seriously. But we don’t throw up our hands and just discard that these are just exceptions. They’re common. They’re found in basically all upper respiratory infections. Almost all viruses have these sorts of serious sequelae.
So there was a lack of transmission. I believe this is a big failure of public health experts in communicating with rational and common sense thought to the American people about what the expectations were from this virus, and what we know about coronaviruses.
Instead, what was done was completely abrogating the responsibility of using calm leadership when you’re speaking to the public. Instead, what was done was these people were acting like laymen with their level of panic in the media and the social media. The world we live in took off on that. Fear and panic became the order of the day, unfortunately.
Mr. Jekielek: Typically, when we think of lockdown policy, we think lockdowns are good. But there are these costs. There are economic costs, there are social costs, perhaps isolation. You’re telling me the cost of lockdowns are bad across the board, because they harm the people that are older or with comorbidities at the same time around coronavirus itself. And at the same time, they harm the younger people who are at lower risk by basically preventing them from doing normal activity.
Dr. Atlas: The idea of using something that has been called targeted protection or focused protection, or even simply not labeling it and going into what I was writing about that should be done—we saw even in March, April, May, the lockdown policies were, number one, failing to protect the high-risk people.
People were dying. They were elderly. The nursing home deaths made up 40 to 50 percent of all deaths. It was through many of our states. At one point in Minnesota 80 percent of the deaths were in nursing homes. I don’t know how the eventual tally ended up. So the policies of lockdown were number one, failing to protect the high-risk people. We knew who the high-risk people were. So that was a complete failure.
The second part is the harms of the lockdowns. You said some of them were so-called social, but that that’s really a distortion. The harms of the lockdowns are deaths. It’s not an economic harm. It’s a death harm. Harm of the lockdowns means, absent medical care. Almost half of the people, of the 650,000 people in the United States that get chemotherapy, almost half skipped their chemotherapy. 40 percent of people with an acute stroke were too afraid to call an ambulance. They didn’t want to be in a medical setting.
Heart attack patients, 30 to 50 percent of heart attack patients were not coming in. Eighty-five percent of live organ transplants did not get done during the two months of the lockdown. There were 300,000-plus cases of child abuse that were not noticed because they were not going to school. Schools are the number one agency where child abuse is noticed. Opioid deaths, spousal abuse, suicides, these things were skyrocketing.
These are deaths. This is not an economic issue. It’s not money. This was a false dichotomy. It is still somehow held by many people, “Okay, the lockdowns are an economic harm, but we’re saving lives.” No, you’re destroying families, you’re destroying lives and you’re literally killing people with the lockdowns.
The CDC itself said in the month of June last year, one out of four young adults, college-aged adults, one out of four Americans at college age thought of killing himself. There was a tripling to quadrupling of depression and anxiety. And the list goes on and on.
We could look now at the more recent data. There’s a doubling of psychiatric or psychological visits to doctors by teenagers in the United States, and a tripling of reported self harm visits to doctors by teenagers in the northeast where the lockdowns were severe—tripling of self harm. This is deadly serious, the harms of the lockdown. It is not an economic issue alone by any stretch of the imagination.
All of the harms of the lockdowns were much worse for poor people, for the low income families, for the minorities. That means all the school closures, all the college campus closures, the lack of in person schools, the job losses, the loss of medical care, the loss of nutritional needs—all of these things were worse for the poorer people, for the low income people.
The lockdowns are what I call a luxury of the rich. People that have a second house in the Hamptons or Palm Beach or Northern California that are sitting there drinking their lattes and doing their job on computer, that’s not who was harmed by the lockdown. And frankly, I don’t care about those people being harmed by the lockdown, because they’re fine. But all these low income people were destroyed by the lockdowns and most of them will take years to recover what they’ve lost from this.
By the way, if I can go on, the lockdown harms were deadly beyond the United States, because of this interconnectivity of the economies, when you look at the numbers and the diversion of medical resources. I just read that more than 30 million new people in India alone are shoved from the middle class into poverty. [There are] 400,000 new deaths this year alone from tuberculosis, because of the lockdowns and diversion of medical resources. [There are] 130 million new people falling into starvation level poverty in the world because of the lockdowns, not because of the virus, because of the lockdowns.
When you look at a country like Bangladesh, something like 90 percent of the workforce is in the garment manufacturing industry. That industry came to a halt. All of those people, that’s most of the GDP of an entire country wiped out. These people are in abject poverty now.
We can sit here, as was said by one of the famous faces of public health: “Oh I know the lockdowns are inconvenient.” This is not an inconvenience. This is a matter of life and death.
To answer the original question, I’m sorry I got off track there, but the lockdowns failed. They still fail to protect the people who are at high risk. The lockdowns destroyed and killed many other people, destroyed families, sacrificed our children out of fear for adults, even though the children do not have significant risk. And we didn’t care as a country. We kept them out of school, and it’s a disgrace. It’s a heinous abuse of power by public health experts to do what was done.
By the way, the targeted protection—if I can continue on one more important point that I advocated for personally, as well as did other people—this didn’t just involve ending the lockdowns. It involved doing better at protecting the elderly. It involved fixing the failure of the policy that has been implemented all across the country, with rare exception, in the United States.
I said, “That’s not exactly prioritizing testing. You should be testing three days a week, five days a week, every single person who walks into a nursing home. We should have testing frequently of everyone in the nursing home. We should get more personal protective equipment to the nursing homes. We should get all this testing and personal protective equipment to the senior centers, not just the residential facilities where seniors live.”
That policy failed. It didn’t just hurt people from the lockdown. It failed to save the elderly, and they were destroyed. They were killed by the lack of enough prioritization, enough resources. I was one of the few who was saying, “More testing in nursing homes.” We know all the cases came in from the staff in nursing homes, for instance, yet the recommendation was one test per week of the staff.
That wasn’t being done. I pushed to get more testing to the high-risk faculty of historically black colleges and universities. That wasn’t being done. There were things that should have been done that were not done to protect the elderly. And because of that people died.
Mr. Jekielek: What is the risk to young people? Because this is still a topic of discussion right now.
Dr. Atlas: Yes. It shouldn’t even be a topic. It’s well established. By the way, anything that I derived from science, I had been doing consultations almost every day with some of the world’s best epidemiologists. This is a little bit off track, but to think that you need to be an epidemiologist—you need to at least talk to epidemiologists. One of the things I have in common with Dr. Fauci is that neither one of us is an epidemiologist.
I did consult with some of the world’s best epidemiologists and still do to this day, many times per week; with Professors Ioannidis and Bhattacharya of Stanford, Professor Kulldorf of Harvard, and Professor Gupta of Oxford. I read and consulted with all of these people and more about the scientific literature.
When you look at the scientific literature, the risk to young people, the risk to people under 18, under 20 is extremely small. The risk to children is less than seasonal influenza, children under 14. That’s factual. That was stated in the medical literature months ago. That has not changed. The survival for people under 20 is something like 99.997 percent from this illness.
Just to put it in perspective, in the United States, the average age at death from COVID is 80. Half the deaths are in people over 65. The risk of young people is very small. Look at the most recent analysis by John Ioannidis, who’s a very renowned epidemiologist from Stanford. He did a very thorough review of the entire world’s literature.
The infection fatality rate is under point one (0.1). So we really have to say it’s very dangerous for people who are older people, who are over 70 and have comorbidities. In the UK they use a phrase, “frail,” and this is a medically useful phrase in the UK. We don’t often use it here. But people who have significant illnesses who are older, they have a very high risk. It’s far more dangerous than influenza, there’s no question.
But for people who are young, the risk from this disease is on the order of influenza. We have to realize then, that’s perspective, that’s clinical perspective. It is not true that everyone has the same high risk. It is not true that everyone is equally susceptible. It is not true that people have the same risk for hospitalization. There’s a difference of a factor of 1000 between the death for an older person versus the death from a younger person. There’s an enormous difference in risk for even getting hospitalized or having any serious illness.
I can give you an example. Early on, there were tens of thousands of cases on college campuses. This induced a panic in the media. This was another example of highlighting fear-invoking information, with no perspective given. Of the first 50-some thousand cases, there were zero hospitalizations on college campuses. Not a small number—zero.
Yet this wasn’t really part of the news. What was in the news was that there were these so-called breakouts on college campuses. No one wanted to say that these were positive tests. The overwhelming majority of these college students were not just not sick significantly, they were asymptomatic—the overwhelming majority.
There were zero hospitalizations and zero deaths in the first, something like 55,000 cases, I don’t remember now. Yet, this wasn’t the news story. The news story kept pounding out, “College campus breakouts, oh my!” And people started closing college campuses. This is an enormous public health policy mistake.
Mr. Jekielek: But there’s also this question about transmission. Transmission among young people is also very, very low, from what I understand.
Dr. Atlas: That’s right. Your question is really the risk to young people and children, vis-a-vis opening schools in person. I would like to address it this way. There are three reasons why schools must be open in person. Number one, the risk to children from this disease is extremely, extremely low. That’s factual. That’s not an opinion, period. Anyone who denies that is simply denying all the science that we know.
The second point is that there are enormous harms to stopping in-person schools. There are health harms. There are development harms. We lose all socialization. We don’t meet all kinds of nutritional needs. We don’t pick up if somebody needs glasses or hearing aids in school. There are just enormous costs. These have been articulated and proven all over the world, all over the country. They shouldn’t have to be repeated.
The third reason to open schools is because there is nothing more important to this country. And I would say that in any country, but also in this country. Nothing is more important than educating our children.
We know that online education distance learning is a failure, a total failure. There is a 40 percent drop in reading, a 50 percent drop in math skills, a massive explosion in the number of failing grades, and half the kids in certain communities never even log on. It’s totally destructive to assume that you can get educated. It’s going to have a long lasting impact, particularly on lower income kids and minority kids, and people with single parents.
So those three reasons; the lack of harms from the disease, the enormous harms from closing schools and the prioritization as a country and as human beings—there can’t be a single person who’s a parent who doesn’t understand—that educating their children is the most important priority that we must have as a civilized society.
But there’s an icing on the cake. The icing on the cake is that children do not significantly spread the disease to adults. I said this back in late spring. I’ve said it repeatedly. Of course, I’ve been vilified for saying one plus one equals two, but that doesn’t change the fact that one plus one equals two. It doesn’t change the science.
There has been no science that changed the data that was already there from countries all over the world: Austria, Germany, France, Spain, the UK, Japan, and all over the country really when you look at the harms. Even Florida shows there is no outbreak when you open schools. Sweden, Finland, the studies have been done, and now they’ve been validated. They’ve been validated by a study from Duke University. They were validated from Brown University. They have been validated again and again from other countries. This was denied.
Even if children spread to adults, we still should have had children in person for schools. But we know that children do not significantly spread. They are not the source of major spread. There is nothing against having teachers walk in and teach students. In fact, it’s a low-risk environment. The only difference between a school and the community is that schools are safer.
If you’re looking for a job that has lower risk, you want to be a teacher and teach in person. The analogy can be made, and it’s not far off, that a child is the same thing as a vaccinated adult. I’m not saying that literally, but what I’m saying is, they’re that safe to be around. We know that there’s not been a significant risk to teachers.
Teaching, by the way, if I may go on, is a young profession in the United States. K-12, teachers, half of them are under 41. Something like 92 percent are under 60. This is not a high-risk population. Now, there are high-risk teachers, no doubt. There are high-risk students. They have to be protected. They have to be isolated. They have to teach at a distance. They can use every kind of mitigation they want. Teachers can teach from a distance if they don’t want to teach in-person, but the children need to be in-person.
It’s not just a misconception, it’s a lie that it’s a risky situation to have in-person schools. This is a national disgrace. We have been uniquely willing to sacrifice our children out of fear for adults, when we know that children have no risk and the children aren’t harmed—no significant risk, and the children aren’t harmed. It’s a national disgrace that our schools have been closed.
Mr. Jekielek: So if this information is so available, and this analysis is so relatively simple to perform, what’s going on here?
Dr. Atlas: I would like to add before I answer, what’s going on here about the lockdowns is that people are not willing to pay attention to the literature on the lockdowns. So when we see the paper that came out of Stanford recently, in January or February of 2021, by [Eran] Bendavid and three other authors. They showed, interestingly, that the severe lockdowns did not stop the spread of the virus.
In fact, in many instances, John Ioannidis was quoted as saying, “They were pro-contagion, they promoted the spread. Of course, that makes some sense, when you realize that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the highest propensity to spread is indoors in your home. So if you confine people to home, you’re setting up a higher risk.
Whereas, if you let people go outside where cases do not spread that frequently, and of course, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out that if you’re outside in the air, it’s not going to be as dangerous as when confined where the air is enclosed. The cases outside don’t spread as much.
So the data showed that there wasn’t a benefit to the severe lockdowns. More than that, we see the data from Florida, which is our internal control in the country. Florida doesn’t have to do better to show that the lockdowns weren’t positive, because they also avoided many of the harms of the lockdowns. The burden of proof is on the states that did the lockdown.
When you look at the data, and you look at the 10 biggest, most populated states, Florida did the best on age-adjusted deaths from COVID. Florida did the best on deaths for people 65 and older. Of all the 10 biggest states, Florida was the best. Florida beat more than half the states on the total number of deaths from COVID. Florida did better than two thirds of the states on the excess mortality during the pandemic, meaning that’s beyond what you would have expected without the pandemic as a percent increase. Florida’s percent increase was smaller than two thirds of the states. Florida didn’t just show that the lockdowns shouldn’t have been done. Florida showed that the lockdowns were harmful.
The question, really, that you asked me to begin with, was why is this not known? This really brings up some of the fundamental problems that I believe have been exposed by this pandemic. First of all, there has been an exposure of the enormous power of government to step in and close businesses, schools, confine you to your home, stop you from seeing your family, your own family, stop you from seeing your relatives who were dying, put in curfews and change your behavior completely, with no end in sight and no accountability to speak of, although there are a few cases now in court that have been decided.
The second big exposure was that people are willing to say okay to that. The American spirit, the independent American, the tough New Yorker, where are these people? Okay, fear. Fear is enormously powerful. I think we know that. Of course, that makes sense. I was afraid myself; I empathize with the fear.
But after months and months, I don’t empathize with the fear as much anymore. You have to sit there and use critical thinking now. You’re a thinking individual. You’re an adult. You ought to be able to think through this. There’s a lot of conflicting information. You have to step up and take it upon yourself.
Now the other things that we’re exposing—and this gets more to your question—was the power of the media. Now, I’m not minimizing at all the seriousness of the pandemic. Almost 600,000 Americans died, having their deaths attributed to this virus. We have an enormous problem beyond that—more will die—but we have an enormous problem from the management of the pandemic. Many, many people die, people’s lives are destroyed, as I’ve said. So it’s very serious, there’s no doubt.
But what happened in the media here in this country was quantified. There’s a study in the economics literature, they did a study comparing English-speaking media outside the U.S. to the American major media, and they quantified negative stories about COVID, about the pandemic. During the period of analysis, 53 percent of English-speaking media stories outside the U.S., 53 percent were negative. In American media, roughly 90 percent were negative.
Now, that’s a serious problem, because everyone gets their information from the media, most people anyway. When we have an extreme, negative bias in the stories about the pandemic compared to everywhere else in the world—we were all experiencing the pandemic—there’s something wrong here with the media coverage, in my view. It has shown there’s something seriously different about the American media. So that was very harmful, because fear and panic took over, and you see we have a damaged American psyche.
I’m in California, I see it every day. I see young, healthy people running, jogging outside alone with nobody within 30 yards of them wearing a mask. I see people driving in their car alone, wearing a mask. They’re damaged. These people have serious psychological damage.
We know it’s been quantified, by the way. If you look at people of college age, in terms of psychological damage, I mentioned the teenagers visiting their doctor’s, the tripling of reported self harm, doubling, tripling of psychological visits to doctors. If we look at people at 18 to 24 years old, 74 percent of Americans 18 to 24, college-age kids, had a significant unwanted weight gain or weight loss during the pandemic. How big? 52 percent. More than half of college age people in the United States, more than half gained, on average, 28 pounds during the pandemic. 28 pounds.
Mr. Jekielek: I find that difficult to believe.
Dr. Atlas: Yes, 52 percent. It’s this study from the American Psychological Association. You could look it up.
Mr. Jekielek: 28 pounds?
Dr. Atlas: Average. Average, 28 pounds. That’s 52 percent of Americans,18 to 24, who had an unwanted weight gain, the average weight gain in them was 28 pounds. While 22 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 had an unwanted weight loss. That average weight loss, which of course can be a result of psychological harm, the average weight loss of the 22 percent of 18 to 24 year olds who had a weight loss unwanted, the average weight loss was 22 pounds. Okay, that’s significant.
When you look at the data on surveys, “Are you afraid to have any social interaction?” That’s the question. And of people 18 to 24, 50 percent are answering, “Yes. I’m afraid to have any social interaction.” Okay, this is a damaged generation. I’m not just talking about how they miss school. I’m not talking about how they’re taken out of the job market. I’m not talking about how they lost their whole social life.
I am talking about quantifiable harms, psychological harms. When you have one out of four people, aged 18 to 24, who thought of killing themselves in the United States, in that age group alone—this is sinful, what was done. And I’m not a religious person. This is an enormous tragedy, an epic failure by the people who are in charge of the public health advice in this country. It’s a disgrace. I don’t know how to describe it.
Mr. Jekielek: Where to go from here, Scott?
Dr. Atlas: Yes, where do we go from here? This is really the key question. The reason it’s the key question is not your short term. We’re not done with this pandemic, because we have a lot of issues going forward. Not just that we need to keep protecting the older people and making sure as I have said many times that the people who are at high risk, they really should take a vaccine and be protected. But we are going to deal with all the harms from the lockdowns that were implemented for years, for decades. We have a lot of work to do on that.
There will also be another pandemic. There’s no question there will be another pandemic, everyone in that field of research says it. And there will be other crises, even more beyond pandemics that we must grapple with as a country, as a people and work together to solve, because the public good is the issue here, not who is right and wrong. I’m frankly not even interested in pointing blame. I want to make sure that we don’t repeat this abhorrent insanity that destroyed people and killed people.
One of the things we must recognize is that, right now, the way the culture of America is, as well as elsewhere, but particularly in this country, we have stifled the ability to dissent from the so-called accepted narrative. How have we stifled that? With the massive rebukes and vicious hatred directed at people like me, even on the university campuses. There’s so many things wrong here. It’s hard to cover them all.
But first, our universities, America’s universities, are supposed to be the centers for critical thinking and debate. What’s happened instead, is that the people who had the guts to step forward and work for a president that was basically radioactive to many people, people like me who came forward and said, “I don’t care what’s going to happen to me. I’m going to say the truth”—we have paid a big price because of this insane hatred of a politician.
Instead, people have attempted to delegitimize and to discredit people like me for speaking the truth, raising the questions about the data, on all of which, in the end, I’ve been proven to be right, time after time. But it doesn’t matter that I was right. What matters is that I should have never been rebuked because I was saying something that people didn’t like.
When we stop people from going forward, that’s so dangerous. When we stop people from serving in the government, that’s obvious. When we have good people who are afraid to serve their country when they’re needed in a crisis, this is something that we have to look in the mirror as a country and decide is this what we want?
I know it worked, because I had received dozens of emails from all over the country from experts saying, “Scott, you’re right, keep talking. I’m afraid. I cannot come forward. I’m afraid. I’m afraid for my family. I’m afraid for my job”—even from people at my own Stanford University who are still afraid to speak up for the truth.
So the universities have really hurt the ability—and not just the universities, but the whole narrative in the media, that vicious, sick narrative that’s been sort of in attack mode—has really been destructive to people who are willing to serve despite the politics which would describe what I did.
The second thing is, and more profoundly, there’s been a suffocation of scientific debate. We need to say things that are right or wrong, so that we arrive at the truths that we seek. If we don’t allow people to dissent from the spoken narrative, at that day, at that moment, we will never be able to deal correctly with the next pandemic, the next crisis. This is how we arrive at the truth.
What we’ve seen now is that it’s not just the universities. It’s not just the media. We have had overt censorship by Big Tech in social media, I have been censored. I’ve been censored on Twitter for quoting the World Health Organization about masks, for quoting the Center for Evidence Based Medicine at University of Oxford about masks. That was taken down. We see it now with the YouTube videos of panels of world experts on the pandemic speaking to Governor DeSantis in Florida. When you censor that, you’ve really harmed the public’s education.
Americans and the people in the world need to hear what’s going on. They can handle it. They need to be able to judge for themselves. We’ve suffocated the conflicts that are necessary in debating. By conflict, I mean just simple disagreement to arrive at the bottom line, or at least at that time, the truth, the correct answer. We don’t know what’s correct if we don’t allow the other things to be said.
Now we’ve also entered into this politicization of science itself. We look at the best journals in the world. These journals have published garbage, poor science, and they stop the publication of good science, and I believe it was political in nature. So there’s a group-thought, group-thinking mentality that took hold, not allowing people with dissenting voices, dissenting interpretations of evidence, or even completely disallowing the evidence itself to be presented. This is just hugely, hugely dangerous to how our society is going to function.
We have become a country, in my view, that is devoid of humanity. And why do I say that? That’s a very cynical thing to say. I can tell you for myself. I got a massive amount of hate mail and legitimate death threats. Over the Christmas week, I had to have a police car park at the base of my driveway, full time, 24/7. I had to install security equipment in my home, thousands of dollars. I had to have police patrolling my street, 24/7, for months.
This is off the rails. This is not the way civilization is supposed to be. The only motivation I ever had was to help this country. I didn’t care who asked me to help. This is the biggest health care crisis in a century. I’m a health care policy expert. The president of the United States calls me up and says, “Will you help?” There’s something wrong with you if you’re going to say no to that, but now I know the price. Now I know what happened.
My wife and I lost friends we had for 30 years, 30 years. These are educated people who just either disappeared or even went so far as to send me vile, vicious, hate mail, people who have known me for decades. This is surreal what is happening in this country with the level of hate. That’s the biggest problem right now.
Because of the media being the interface of information, which of course is necessary, there’s a split in what people are even aware of. I’ve done interviews with hostile media and they don’t even know of the data that I’m talking about. They’ve never heard it. There’s a complete split in what people are even hearing. That’s because the narrative social media, but also the conventional media have decided what is acceptable to even put out.
Originally, when social media networks were established, we all thought or at least people like me thought, “The more information, the better. This is freedom, and it’s good. There will be a lot of misinformation, but we’ll hear more.” Instead what happened is now it’s evolved into the ability to censor the information and to limit the information.
When you have the governor of Florida with four world experts in public health policy and medical science having a panel discussion, and it’s taken down from YouTube, where is the line between what we are and what we used to think of as abhorrent, like the USSR or communist China, where the government is controlling the narrative?
I’m not saying the government is controlling the narrative here. I don’t believe that. This is all just people complicit in it. They think their opinion should determine what is allowable, the narrative. If that’s true, we are in serious trouble. We need to have a serious societal discussion of what’s going on here. Not only will we not have the ability to solve crises, not only will we not have the services of people like me, but others will be afraid.
Believe me, it’s already happened. They have been successful in intimidating people who have not stepped forward. I can tell you that. I saw their emails. I’ve been called on the phone by them. We will not have anything that the society stands for, because we will have lost our humanity.
Mr. Jekielek: You’ve articulated a huge price that people pay for doing the type of work that you’ve chosen to do. At the same time, you told me you also get a lot of support from a lot of people. As we finish up, tell me a bit about what people are saying to you, and what you’ve been hearing?
Dr. Atlas: I want to make sure people understand. The people who paid the price are the people who died, the families who lost loved ones, [and those impacted by] the enormous harms from the lockdowns that will go on for decades.
Now in terms of why it’s worth doing what I did, and the way for me that kept me moving forward, despite what was happening in the media and in Washington in this poisonous bubble, is because I knew I was there for a reason. And the reason was to fight for the people who needed someone to help them understand what was going on, and speak out against the enormous mounting harms of the lockdowns.
I had thousands of emails. I had more than a hundred emails every morning, and I would have thousands of emails per week for months from people. The overwhelming majority were positive, encouraging me. These were people relating personal stories, mostly from the U.S., but some from all over the world, including people like teachers and scientists and epidemiologists, and even NIH researchers, even today, telling me to keep speaking.
But mainly from parents, mothers, fathers, students, priests, begging me, literally pleading with me to keep speaking out against the lockdowns, because their lives were being destroyed. This support, of course, affirmed that the whole point of why I was there, because no matter how frustrating or how poisonous or how difficult it was for me, I had all these people pushing me to never give up. And I didn’t give up. And I won’t give up.
Mr. Jekielek: Dr. Scott Atlas, it’s such a pleasure to have you on.
Dr. Atlas: Thank you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
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