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September 12, 2023

In Brief: ‘The Government Censored Me and Other Scientists’

Fortunately, Dr. Jay Bhattacharya and other plaintiffs won before the Fifth Circuit Court.

Yesterday, we noted the big win for free speech from the Fifth Circuit Court. Dr. Jay Bhattacharya was at the center of speech suppression and censorship encouraged and practically demanded by government officials. As one of the authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, he was on the “wrong side” of the coronavirus debate. In an op-ed for The Free Press, he marks the court win by recounting a little history.

The trouble began on October 4, 2020, when my colleagues and I—Dr. Martin Kulldorff, a professor of medicine at Harvard University, and Dr. Sunetra Gupta, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford—published the Great Barrington Declaration. The Declaration called for an end to economic lockdowns, school shutdowns, and similar restrictive policies on the grounds that they disproportionately harm the young and economically disadvantaged while conferring limited benefits to society as a whole.

The Declaration endorsed a “focused protection” approach that called for strong measures to protect high-risk populations while allowing lower-risk individuals to return to normal life with reasonable precautions. Tens of thousands of doctors and public health scientists signed our statement.

With hindsight, it is clear that this strategy was the right one. Sweden, which in large part eschewed lockdown and, after early problems, embraced focused protection of older populations, had among the lowest age-adjusted all-cause excess deaths than nearly every other country in Europe and suffered none of the learning loss for its elementary school children. Similarly, Florida has seen lower cumulative age-adjusted all-cause excess deaths than lockdown-obsessed California since the start of the pandemic.

But at the time, our proposal was viewed by high government officials like Anthony Fauci and some in the Trump White House, including Deborah Birx, then-White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, as a kind of heresy.

Federal officials immediately targeted the Great Barrington Declaration for suppression because it contradicted the government’s preferred response to Covid. Four days after the Declaration’s publication, then-director of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, emailed Fauci to organize a “devastating takedown” of it.

Almost immediately, social media companies such as Google/YouTube, Reddit, and Facebook censored mentions of the Declaration.

As The Free Press revealed in its Twitter Files reporting, in 2021 Twitter blacklisted me for posting a link to the Great Barrington Declaration. YouTube censored a video of a public policy roundtable of me with Florida governor Ron DeSantis for the crime of telling him that the scientific evidence for masking children is weak.

I have been a professor researching health policy and infectious disease epidemiology at a world-class university for decades. I am not a political person; I am not registered with either party. In part that is because I want to preserve my total independence as a scientist. I have always viewed my job as telling people honestly about the data issues, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans liked the message.

Yet at the height of the pandemic, I found myself smeared for my supposed political views, and my views about Covid policy and epidemiology were removed from the public square on all manner of social networks. I could not believe this was happening in the country I so love.

Nevertheless, that love inspired him to fight back, so he joined the lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Missouri and Louisiana. The process of discovery proved that government officials were at the center of speech suppression, thus constituting a violation of the First Amendment.

Bhattacharya discusses that case a bit before simply rejoicing at the win: “The victory is not just for me but for every American who felt the oppressive force of this censorship industrial complex during the pandemic.” Even so:

But I can never go back to the uncomplicated faith and naive confidence I had in America when I was young. Our government is not immune to the authoritarian impulse. I have learned the hard way that it is only we, the people, who must hold an overreaching government accountable for violating our most sacred rights. Without our vigilance, we will lose them.

Read the whole thing here.

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