Covid, lockdown and the retreat of scientific debate

Here is an extract of an article from the Australian Spectator in response to a recent scurrilous article in the British Medical Journal.

Science is about rational disagreement, the questioning and testing of orthodoxy and the constant search for truth. With something like lockdown – an untested policy that affects millions – rigorous debate and the basics of verification/falsification are more important than ever. Academics backing lockdown (or any major theory) ought to welcome challenges, knowing – as scientists do – that robust challenge is the way to identify error, improve policy and save lives.

But with lockdown, science is in danger of being suppressed by politics. Lockdown moved instantly from untested theory to unchallengeable orthodoxy: where dissenters face personal attack. Understandable on social media perhaps, but it has now crept into the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in a recent article about the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD). The GBD, which I wrote, together with Dr. Jay Bhattacharya at Stanford and Dr. Sunetra Gupta at Oxford, argues for focused protection. Rather than a blanket lockdown which inflicts so much harm on society, we wanted better protection of those most at risk – mindful that Covid typically poses only a mild risk to the young. For saying so, we are smeared as ‘the new merchants of doubt’ – as if scepticism and challenge is regarded by the BMJ as something to be condemned.

The BMJ article is full of errors that ought to have never found their way into any publication. Here is a sample of some of the 7 examples:

My colleagues and I (Martin Kulldorff) are described as ‘critics of public health measures to curb Covid-19’. On the contrary, throughout the pandemic we have strongly advocated better public health measures to curb Covid-19 – specifically protection of high-risk older people, with many ‘clearly defined’ proposals. The failure to implement such measures, in our view, has led to many unnecessary Covid deaths.

We are described as ‘proponents of herd immunity’ which is akin to accusing someone of being in favour of gravity. Both are scientifically established phenomena. Every Covid strategy leads to herd immunity. The key is to minimise morbidity and mortality. The language, here, is non-scientific: herd immunity is not a creed. It’s how pandemics end.

It says we have ‘expressed opposition to mass vaccination’. Dr. Gupta and I have spent decades on vaccine research and we are all strong advocates for Covid and other vaccines. They are among the greatest inventions in history. To falsely credit the anti-vaccine movement with support from professors at Harvard, Oxford and Stanford is damaging for vaccine confidence. This is unworthy of a medical journal.

The GBD is referred to as a ‘sophisticated science denialism’. Note here how something that challenges an orthodoxy is described as anti-science – a label that presumably could have been applied to any scientific innovator who ever questioned a failed orthodoxy. Collateral public health damage from Covid restrictions are real and enormous on cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, backsliding childhood vaccinations, starvation and mental health, just to name a few. It is not the GBD, but those who downplay lockdown harms who should be equated with those who question the harms of tobacco or climate change.

The BMJ article ends by saying that my colleagues and I are peddling a ‘well-funded sophisticated science denialist campaign based on ideological and corporate interests’. Nobody has paid us money for our work on the GBD, or for advocating focused protection. None of us would have undertaken this project for professional gain: it is far easier to stay silent than put your head above the parapet. As a vaccine developer, Dr. Gupta has connections with a pharmaceutical start-up, but Dr. Bhattacharya and I are among the few drug/vaccine scientists who purposely avoid pharmaceutical company funding to be free from conflicts of interests.

During a pandemic, it is the duty of public health scientists to engage with government officials: to use their expertise to confront what right now is perhaps the biggest single problem facing humanity. It is hard to understand why anyone would criticise that. If we are to be faulted for anything, it is that we failed to convince governments to implement focused protection instead of damaging lockdowns. One place where we had some success was Florida, where the cumulative age-adjusted Covid mortality is lower than the US national average with less collateral damage. If we are wrong, then as scientists we would welcome a scientific discussion on how and where we are wrong.

What is there to say? Because of political strategies using slander and ad hominem attacks, many physicians and scientists have been reluctant to speak out despite their reservations about pandemic policies. The error-strewn attacks in BMJ demonstrate what awaits academics who do challenge prevailing views. Click for full source article.

So there we have it. Another article slandering fine academic scientists for having alternative views to the new Establishment scientific orthodoxy, and woe betide you if you step out of line. Even New Zealand, which has had a policy of “Covid zero” for the last 18 months, closing its borders and quickly enforcing lockdowns to keep coronavirus in check, has now abandoned that policy in favour of a transitioning strategy to coexist with coronavirus.

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