by Scott W. Atlas, MD, Stanford Review:
It is always a great pleasure, and an important part of my job, to speak to students. It is essential for students to hear ideas from many sources, especially ideas they may not agree with. That is a key part of learning how to think critically – and critical thinking is the most important lesson to learn in college, in my opinion.
The coronavirus pandemic has been a great tragedy, 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.
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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.
This crisis has also exposed what we all have known existed, but we have tolerated for years: the overt bias of the media, the lack of diverse viewpoints on campuses, the absence of neutrality in big tech controlling social media, and now more visibly than ever, the intrusion of politics into science. Ultimately, the freedom to seek and state the truth is at risk here in the United States.
First, we all acknowledge that the consequences of the SARS2 coronavirus pandemic and its management have been enormous. Over half million American deaths have been attributed to the virus; more will certainly follow. Even after almost a year, the pandemic still paralyzes much of our country. And despite all efforts, there was an undeniable failure to stop cases from rapidly escalating and prevent hospitalizations and death.
Here’s the unacknowledged reality: almost all states and major cities, with a handful of exceptions, have implemented severe restrictions for many months, including closures of businesses and in-person school, mobility restrictions and curfews, quarantines, limits on group gatherings, and mask mandates dating back to at least the summer.
And let’s clear up the myths about the behavior of Americans – social mobility tracking of Americans and data from Gallup, YouGov, the COVID-19 Consortium, and the CDC have shown significant reductions of movement as well as a consistently high percentage of mask wearing since the late summer, similar to Western European countries and approaching those in Asia.
All legitimate policy scholars should, today, be openly reexamining policies that severely harmed America’s families and children, while failing to save the elderly. Studies, including one in January from Stanford University’s infectious disease scientists and epidemiologists Bendavid, Oh, Bhattacharya, and Ioannidis, have shown the mitigating impact of the extraordinary measures was small at best and according to the study’s senior author Ioannidis, “usually harmful” – in his words, “pro-contagion.” President Biden openly admitted their lack of efficacy in his speech to the nation on January 22, when he said, “there is nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.”
Bizarrely, though, many want to blame those who opposed lockdowns and mandates for the failure of the very lockdowns and mandates that were widely implemented.
Separate from their limited value in containing the virus — efficacy that has often been “grossly exaggerated” in scientific journals, as documented by epidemiologists and biostatisticians Chin, Ioannidis, Tanner, and Cripps – lockdown policies have been extraordinarily harmful. 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.
A recent study confirms that up to 78% of cancers were never detected due to missed screening over three months. If one extrapolates to the entire country, up to a million new cases or more over nine months will have gone undetected. That health disaster adds to missed critical surgeries, chemotherapy, organ transplants, presentations of pediatric illnesses, heart attack and stroke patients too afraid to call emergency services, and others, all well documented.
Beyond hospital care, CDC reported 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, echoing the AMA reports of drug overdoses and suicides. An explosion of insurance claims for these psychological harms in children just verified this, doubling nationally since last year; and in the strictly locked down Northeast, there was a more than 300% increase of teenagers visiting doctors for self-harm.
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. Finally, the unemployment “shock” from lockdowns, according to a recent NBER study, translates into what they called a “staggering” 890,000 additional U.S. deaths over the next 15 years from the lockdowns, disproportionately affecting minorities and women.
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.
To manage such a crisis, shouldn’t policymakers objectively consider both the virus harms and the totality of impact of policies? That’s the importance of health policy experts – my field – with a broader scope of expertise than that of epidemiologists and basic scientists. And that’s exactly why I was called to the White House – there were zero health policy scholars on the Task Force; no one with a medical background who also considered the impacts of the policies was advising the White House.
To determine the best path forward necessarily means admitting that social lockdowns and significant restrictions on individuals are deadly and extraordinarily harmful, especially on the working class, minorities, and the poor.
In his book “Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds,” Charles Mackay wrote: “of all the offspring of Time, Error is the most ancient, and is so old and familiar an acquaintance, that Truth, when discovered, comes upon most of us like an intruder, and meets the intruder’s welcome.”