The panic pandemic

More than ten years ago, I think, the editors of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal asked me for a blurb to promote the magazine. I wrote a paragraph expressing my appreciation in the course of which I asked the question, “In the age of the Internet, how is it possible for a quarterly magazine to seem the most timely publication in the country?” (Hamlet: “‘Seems.’ madam? Nay, it is.”)

Having just received my hard copy of the Summer issue in the mail yesterday, I see they are still using my question and vindicating my judgment. John Hinderaker has already highlighted Heather Mac Donald’s stunning essay “Classical music’s suicide pact” (part one, part two coming tomorrow). Leading off the issue is John Tierney’s essay “The panic pandemic.” It could not be more timely.

Included among the graphics accompanying Tierney’s essay is the age-adjusted Covid mortality rate chart below.

In part, Tierney’s essay relates the imposition of the consensus with which we have all become painfully familiar. In this excerpt he turns to the treatment of Dr. Scott Atlas (links omitted):

The most reviled heretic was Scott Atlas, a medical doctor and health-policy analyst at Stanford’s Hoover Institution. He, too, urged focused protection on nursing homes and calculated that the medical, social, and economic disruptions of the lockdowns would cost more years of life than the coronavirus. When he joined the White House coronavirus task force, Bill Gates derided him as “this Stanford guy with no background” promoting “crackpot theories.” Nearly 100 members of Stanford’s faculty signed a letter denouncing his “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science,” and an editorial in the Stanford Daily urged the university to sever its ties to Hoover.

The Stanford faculty senate overwhelmingly voted to condemn Atlas’s actions as “anathema to our community, our values and our belief that we should use knowledge for good.” Several professors from Stanford’s medical school demanded further punishment in a JAMA article, “When Physicians Engage in Practices That Threaten the Nation’s Health.” The article, which misrepresented Atlas’s views as well as the evidence on the efficacy of lockdowns, urged professional medical societies and medical-licensing boards to take action against Atlas on the grounds that it was “ethically inappropriate for physicians to publicly recommend behaviors or interventions that are not scientifically well grounded.”

But if it was unethical to recommend “interventions that are not scientifically well grounded,” how could anyone condone the lockdowns? “It was utterly immoral to conduct this society-wide intervention without the evidence to justify it,” [Stanford’s Dr. Jay] Bhattacharya says. “The immediate results have been disastrous, especially for the poor, and the long-term effect will be to fundamentally undermine trust in public health and science.” The traditional strategy for dealing with pandemics was to isolate the infected and protect the most vulnerable, just as Atlas and the Great Barrington scientists recommended. The CDC’s pre-pandemic planning scenarios didn’t recommend extended school closures or any shutdown of businesses even during a plague as deadly as the 1918 Spanish flu. Yet Fauci [you know who he is] dismissed the focused-protection strategy as “total nonsense” to “anybody who has any experience in epidemiology and infectious diseases,” and his verdict became “the science” to leaders in America and elsewhere.

Tierney mentions his own experience in passing here (links omitted):

Social-media platforms continued censoring scientists and journalists who questioned lockdowns and mask mandates. YouTube removed a video discussion between [Florida Governor Ron] DeSantis and the Great Barrington scientists, on the grounds that it “contradicts the consensus” on the efficacy of masks, and also took down the Hoover Institution’s interview with Atlas. Twitter locked out Atlas and [Harvard’s Martin] Kulldorff for scientifically accurate challenges to mask orthodoxy. A peer-reviewed German study reporting harms to children from mask-wearing was suppressed on Facebook (which labeled my City Journal article “Partly False” because it cited the study) and also at ResearchGate, one of the most widely used websites for scientists to post their papers. ResearchGate refused to explain the censorship to the German scientists, telling them only that the paper was removed from the website in response to “reports from the community about the subject-matter.”

Followed by this:

The social-media censors and scientific establishment, aided by the Chinese government, succeeded for a year in suppressing the lab-leak theory, depriving vaccine developers of potentially valuable insights into the virus’s evolution. It’s understandable, if deplorable, that the researchers and officials involved in supporting the Wuhan lab research would cover up the possibility that they’d unleashed a Frankenstein on the world. What’s harder to explain is why journalists and the rest of the scientific community so eagerly bought that story, along with the rest of the Covid narrative.

City Journal editor Brian Anderson followed up with Tierney in the 10 Blocks podcast “Still panicking” (recording and transcript at the link).

Tierney is the prominent author (most recently, with Roy Baumeister, The Power of Bad: How the Negativity Effect Rules Us and How We Can Rule It), contrarian (see, e.g., “Recycling is garbage,” updated by “The reign of recycling”“), former New York Times reporter, and contributing New York Times science columnist.

I love having Tierney’s essay in hard copy form, but the online version is full of links inviting the reader to look over his shoulder. I recommend it to you for your weekend reading.