March 10, 2021

Scott Atlas Unloads on the Cancel Culture

There’s plenty to say about our nation’s misguided pandemic response and the intolerance of the Left.

Stanford University’s Hoover Institution is a precious jewel within American higher education. Founded in 1919 by Stanford alumnus Herbert Hoover, its sizable endowment and independence from the larger university make it one of the world’s most lively and prestigious think tanks — and a conservative one at that. It’s home to great thinkers like Thomas Sowell and Victor Davis Hanson, and also to an intrepid doctor named Scott Atlas.

A Hoover senior fellow and one-time chief of neuroradiology at Stanford Medical Center, Atlas served from August through November 2020 as a special adviser to President Donald Trump and was a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. And, given his patriotic service in support of the previous administration, he’s also been a target of the anti-scientific Left and its unhinged cancel culture.

“Atlas’s crime,” writes Jonathan Tobin at The Federalist, “was to raise well-founded doubts about the efficacy of lockdowns as a coronavirus response. Worse than that, he advised the Trump White House, which opened him up to outrageous and utterly unscholarly claims that he was responsible for the deaths of COVID-19 victims. Delegitimizing him and his analysis of the coronavirus disaster was a matter of treating all those who have any connection with the Trump administration as criminals, something that could only be accomplished by blatant misrepresentations of his views and statements.”

Given this, given his particular expertise, and given his commitment to science and medicine and scholarly inquiry, Atlas shared some candid thoughts recently in a virtual lecture hosted by Stanford’s pesky College Republicans.

“The coronavirus pandemic has been a great tragedy,” he said, “there can be no doubt about that. But it has also exposed profound issues in America that now threaten the very principles of freedom and order that we Americans often take for granted. First, I have been shocked at the enormous power of the government to unilaterally decree, to simply close businesses and schools by edict, restrict personal movement, mandate behavior, and eliminate our most basic freedoms without any end and little accountability. Second, I remain surprised at the acceptance by the American people of draconian rules, restrictions, and unprecedented mandates, even those that are arbitrary, destructive, and wholly unscientific.”

Atlas is a real medical doctor, so he speaks with authority on matters of health policy, which is his field, his lane, as he puts it. And his remarks are especially timely, given that the CDC recently issued new recommendations for “fully vaccinated people,” and in light of a new study, published in Nature, which found that “the imposition of ‘stay-at-home’ orders issued by governments attempting to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 was an ineffective strategy.”

“Separate from their limited value in containing the virus … lockdown policies have been extraordinarily harmful,” says Atlas. “The harms to children of closing in-person schooling are dramatic, including poor learning, increased school dropouts, and social isolation, most of which are far worse for lower income groups.” Atlas also notes a CDC report of “four-fold increases in depression, three-fold increases in anxiety symptoms, and a doubling of suicidal ideation, particularly among young adults — college age — after the first few months of lockdowns.”

In addition, he says, “Domestic abuse and child abuse have been skyrocketing due to the isolation and specifically to the loss of jobs, particularly in the strictest lockdowns. Given that many in-person schools have been closed, hundreds of thousands of abuse cases are never reported, since schools are the number one agency where abuse is noticed. … We know we have not yet seen the full extent of the damage from lockdowns, because it will last for years, even decades. Perhaps that is why lockdowns were not recommended in previous pandemic analyses, even for infections with far higher lethality.”

Atlas laments our collective failure to consider the broader scope, the totality of policy impact, rather than just the epidemiological impact.

“Optimistically,” he continues, “we should be seeing the light at the end of the long tunnel with the rollout of vaccines. I believe that we are. But … we now hear some claim that all children must be tested and vaccinated, even though they have extremely low risk from this infection and are proven to not be significant spreaders to adults? Or that all teachers must be vaccinated before they teach in-person, even though schools are one of the lowest risk environments and the vast majority of teachers are not high risk?”

Meanwhile, Atlas expresses deep concern for the cancel culture that has infected our nation and its universities, and the way social media and the prevailing viewpoint have joined forces to limit thoughtful inquiry and discussion.

“The United States is on the precipice of losing its cherished freedoms,” he concludes, “with censorship and cancellation of all those who bring views forward that differ from the ‘accepted mainstream.’ It is not clear if our democracy, with its defining freedoms, will recover, even after we survive the pandemic itself. But it is clear that people must step up — meaning speak up … as we are expected to do in free societies — or it has no chance.”

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