Antivaccine nonsense Bad science Medicine Politics

The Great Barrington Declaration strikes back

A month after a BMJ article linking the Great Barrington Declaration to the right wing think tank AIER, the two are attacking the authors of the BMJ piece and denying any payment or even connection. Why?

About a year ago, three scientists wrote and issued the Great Barrington Declaration. When I wrote about it at the time, I characterized the Declaration as “magnified minority” and eugenics, the former because it followed a common crank playbook of issuing a declaration about a fringe science position and getting lots of doctors and scientists, the vast majority of whom have no expertise in the area, to sign it, and the latter for reasons I will describe. Named after the town in Massachusetts where the right wing “free market” think tank, the American Institute for Economic Research is located, the Great Barrington Declaration proposed, in essence, letting COVID-19 rip through the “healthy” younger population in order to build up “natural herd immunity,” all while using “focused protection” to protect those at high risk for severe disease and death from coronavirus, such as the elderly and those with chronic health conditions like type 2 diabetes.

Tellingly, what “focused protection” would actually mean in practice and how it would protect the vulnerable were never really described in sufficient detail to determine if this was a viable strategy. (Hint: It wasn’t, and, despite more recent claims by Great Barrington signatories, still doesn’t.) Basically, when I first encountered the Great Barrington Declaration, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that the whole thing had a “Screw the elderly and sick!” vibe to it that reeked of eugenics. Amusingly, when criticized, AIER portrayed itself and the advocates of the Great Barrington Declaration as the “new abolitionists,” parroting a common antimask and antivaccine theme that likens public health interventions against COVID-19 to “slavery.”

Unfortunately, the Great Barrington Declaration was also widely influential. Indeed, Gavin Yamey and a certain author regular readers here know well wrote a commentary for The BMJ entitled COVID-19 and the new merchants of doubt, in which it was described just how influential. Great Barrington Declaration signatories Martin Kulldorff of Harvard Medical School, Sunetra Gupta of the University of Oxford and Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford University have been hugely influential. For instance, Gupta’s arguments found favor in UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government, while Great Barrington Declaration-like arguments also were eagerly embraced by the Trump Administration and in Florida.

In addition:

For example, in March 2021 Florida Governor Ron DeSantis hosted a video roundtable with Atlas, Gupta, Kulldorff, and Bhattacharya, where they expressed opposition to masks, testing and tracing, physical distancing, and mass vaccination. YouTube removed the video “because it included content that contradicts the consensus of local and global health authorities regarding the efficacy of masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19.” GBD authors, predictably, cried, “Censorship!” Bhattacharya continues to advise Governor DeSantis on Florida’s covid-19 policies, including providing legal testimony in support of DeSantis’s ban on mask mandates in public schools. 

More recently, Gov. DeSantis appointed Dr. Joseph Ladapo, a member of the group of quacks known as America’s Frontline Doctors and a signatory of the Great Barrington Declaration (not to mention an enthusiastic acolyte of it) as Florida’s Surgeon General and Secretary of the Florida Department of Health.

To be honest, I’ve been rather surprised at how little pushback there has been to that BMJ article, at least initially after its publication. For some reason, it took a month for the gears behind the apparatus behind the AIER and the Great Barrington Declaration to start turning to produce pushback, but push back they did, beginning with an article by Martin Kulldorff, soon amplified by his co-signatory Jay Bhattacharya and other Declaration-friendly sources:

“Slander.” You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

Besides his use of the term “laptop class” to characterize those of us who have been pushing back against COVID-19 contrarianism and misinformation, I was rather amused by the claim of “slander” by Dr. Bhattacharya (even aside from the point that slander is verbal defamation and he should have used the term “libel”). The BMJ, after all, is published in the UK, which has some of the more plaintiff-friendly libel laws in the developed world. The article went through around four months of fact-checking, tweaking, and revision by The BMJ‘s lawyers, for that very reason. (UK laws require the defendant to prove that allegedly defamatory statements in an article are factual rather than the plaintiff to prove that they are false.) That’s just an aside, though.

If you want to get an idea where Kulldorff is coming from, you really should read his last paragraph first, though, particularly this passage:

That such an article was published exemplifies the decay in standards of scientific journals. Open and honest discourse is critical for science and public health. As scientists, we must now tragically acknowledge that 400 years of scientific enlightenment may be coming to an end. It started with Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei and René Descartes. It would be tragic if it would end up as one of the many casualties of this pandemic.

“Brave maverick scientists” sure do love their persecution narrative, don’t they? Kulldorff is invoking what I like to call the “Galileo gambit,” a technique much loved by promoters of fringe science in which they compare themselves to Galileo and his persecution for advocating heliocentrism at a time when it was widely believed that the Earth was the center of the universe. The Galileo gambit was one of the earliest topics that I ever wrote about, and whenever I see it I like to respond with Carl Sagan’s famous retort:

But the fact that some geniuses were laughed at does not imply that all who are laughed at are geniuses. They laughed at Columbus, they laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Bozo the Clown.

I do realize that the reference to Columbus is rather dated, which is why I sometimes quote Michael Shermer’s variant of this retort:

They laughed at Copernicus. They laughed at the Wright brothers. Yes, well, they also laughed at the Marx Brothers. Being laughed at does not mean you are right.

Or, as Gavin Yamey put it:

The Galileo gambit is a powerful drug.

Indeed. The brave maverick appeal to Galileo and other “vindicated” scientists in history is the cherry on top of the crank sundae. If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years, it’s that likening yourself to Galileo rarely turns out well and is a very reliable indicator of a crank. Or, as Shermer also put it:

For every Galileo shown the instruments of torture for advocating scientific truth, there are a thousand (or ten thousand) unknowns whose ‘truths’ never pass scientific muster with other scientists.

Or, as I once put it 16 years ago:

For every GalileoIgnaz SemmelweisNicolaus CopernicusCharles DarwinLouis Pasteur, etc., whose scientific ideas were either ignored, rejected, or vigorously attacked by the scientific community of his time and then later accepted, there are untold numbers of others whose ideas were either ignored or rejected initially and then were never accepted—and never will be accepted. Why? Because they were wrong! The reason the ideas of Galileo, Semmelweis, Copernicus, Darwin, Pasteur, et al, were ultimately accepted as correct by the scientific community is because they turned out to be correct

Really, I’m surprised that Kulldorff didn’t quote Arthur Schopenhauer’s famous (and wrong) adage, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” Besides being risibly wrong (a crank’s “truth” never gets to the third stage because it’s not “truth”), Schopenhauer’s saying is a favorite of cranks everywhere. I’ll give Kulldorff credit for having restrained himself. Most cranks can’t, even though Schopenhauer almost certainly never actually wrote or said it.

It’s obvious that Kulldorff and his fellow signatories view themselves as “brave maverick” scientists, misunderstood and persecuted by the scientific establishment and that all hold onto the favorite delusion of such people that I like to call the fallacy of future vindication, or, what I like to call, “I’ll show you! or “I told you so!” Sadly, for most “brave mavericks,” that future vindication never comes. (See my response to Schopenhauer, above.)

Kulldorff’s article is a veritable Gish gallop, so much so that I would rather concentrate first on more of a “bird’s eye” view of what’s going on first and then perhaps address a couple of his key claims. The key question that needs to be addressed is this: Why are Kulldorff and his fellow Great Barrington Declaration signatories so anxious to distance themselves from the AIER, and vice-versa?

For example, Kulldorff writes:

The BMJ article mentions ‘AIER contributor Scott Atlas’, but Dr. Atlas has never been affiliated with nor written for AIER. 

To which I can only respond: ORLY? Well, I can also point to this article by Atlas on the AIER website entitled Will the Truth on COVID Restrictions Really Prevail? Sure, it’s a reprint, but Atlas is frequently mentioned quite favorably by AIER. One wonders why Kulldorff is so anxious to disavow any connection whatsoever with Atlas, one does.

But let’s move on to more Kulldorff blather:

The GBD was not ‘sponsored by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) – and I’m pleased to see that the BMJ has at least retracted this claim. We were there for media interviews, with no sponsorship. How did such a blunder end up in print in the first place?…If we had written the Declaration at say, Starbucks, would the BMJ have claimed that it was sponsored by the coffee shop?

This excuse is disingenuous in the extreme. Does Kulldorff really think his audience is so stupid as to think that his presence, along with that of his co-signatories, at the AIER headquarters in Great Barrington, MA, where, as I will show, they had been invited to travel for a long weekend conference, and where they just happened to get together to write a declaration that they named after the very town where they drafted it is the same thing as their having happened to write the declaration at a random Starbucks? (Maybe he does. He published his article in The Spectator, after all.) As you will see, the AIER enticed Kulldorff with a weekend of fine food and hanging out with like-minded individuals to get him to recruit the other two members of the trio of Great Barrington Declaration signatories.

First, though, let’s look at what AIER itself said:

From October 1-4, 2020, the American Institute for Economic Research hosted a remarkable meeting of top epidemiologists, economists, and journalists, to discuss the global emergency created by the unprecedented use of state compulsion in the management of the Covid-19 pandemic. The result is The Great Barrington Declaration, which urges a “Focused Protection” strategy.

Sure, they were there just for “media interviews.” From the AIER description, it sure sounds as though it was more than just that. One might speculate that the Great Barrington Declaration was a hoped-for outcome of the meeting..

But let’s consider something else. Kulldorff and his fellow “focused protection” mavens were at AIER’s headquarters for this conference for four days. Did AIER pay anything for Kulldorff’s travel and lodging? Meals? Anything at all? Perhaps he will answer this. (A simple yes or no will do.) In general, for conferences like this, if you are featured as prominently as Kulldorff and his fellow signatories were featured, the organization sponsoring the conference will almost always pay at least your travel and lodging expenses, if not an honorarium as well. Perhaps Kulldorff, Bhattacharya, and Gupta, out of the generosity of their hearts, decided to forgo any honorarium, paid their own travel and lodging expenses, and did everything for AIER for free. If that’s true then they’d definitely a highly unusual exception. I might even consider them useful idiots for the AIER.

In addition, I wouldn’t exactly say that The BMJ “retracted,” but rather clarified the article. There is no doubt that, even if the Great Barrington Declaration signatories didn’t receive grants, direct payments, or even travel and lodging expenses from AIER, they definitely received support of considerable other value from the think tank in the form of the “coming out” press conference that the AIER held for them to announce the Declaration and access to the press and high-ranking government officials in the UK and the US. Before the Great Barrington Declaration, they were mostly unknown outside of their professional circles. After that conference, they were well on their way to becoming superstars of the anti-lockdown, antimask movement and were able to promote their ideas at the highest levels of government and for major publications like Newsweek.

In any event, The BMJ article in its current form now reads:

This is not the first time billionaires aligned with industry have provided support to proponents of “herd immunity.” Gupta, along with Harvard University’s Martin Kulldorff and Stanford University’s Jay Bhattacharya, wrote the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), which, in essence, argues that covid-19 should be allowed to spread unchecked through the young and healthy, while keeping those at high risk safe through “focused protection,” which is never clearly defined. This declaration arose out of a conference hosted by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), and has been heavily promoted by the AIER, a libertarian, climate-denialist, free market think tank that receives “a large bulk of its funding from its own investment activities, not least in fossil fuels, energy utilities, tobacco, technology and consumer goods.” The AIER’s American Investment Services Inc. runs a private fund that is valued at $284,492,000, with holdings in a wide range of fossil fuel companies (e.g. Chevron, ExxonMobil) and in the tobacco giant Philip Morris International.  The AIER has also received funding from the Charles Koch Foundation, which was founded and is chaired by the right-wing billionaire industrialist known for promoting climate change denial and opposing regulations on business. Koch linked organisations have also opposed public health measures to curb the spread of covid-19. 

I get it. Kulldorff, Bhattacharya, and Gupta don’t want to be seen as in the thrall of AIER, and AIER in particular doesn’t want to be seen as paying for scientists to provide them with a statement that it can use to promote its political agenda. That’s too obvious. And none of them wants to be perceived as having anything to do with the Koch brothers, which led Kulldorff to write:

The BMJ attempt to link us to the Koch brothers is an ad hominem attack of the highest order, but failed to mention much closer connections. We all work for universities that have received donations from Koch Foundations, although unrelated to any of our own work. While the AIER has received only a single $68K (£50,000) Koch donation a few years ago, many universities have received multiple, much larger Koch donations, including million dollar gifts to Duke,Harvard, Johns Hopkins and Stanford. Since university staff frequently publish in the BMJ, the journal is arguably more closely connected to a ‘network of organisations funded by Charles Koch’ than the AIER.

Saying that other universities receive funding from Koch-associated organizations is not exactly the slam-dunk defense that Kulldorff thinks it is. It’s more of an indictment of universities than a defense of AIER or the Great Barrington Declaration or anything else. Also, a lot of the funding that AIER doesn’t come directly from the Koch Foundation, as was pointed out elsewhere:

Mashey reports:

Prior to 2017, AIER did not appear to have many connections to Koch-tied individuals or organizations. [35]

However, at some point in early 2017 no later than FebruaryBenjamin Powell joined AIER’s board of directors. Powell was one of several new key staff who joined AIER around that period, with many having ties to the Koch-funded George Mason University (GMU) among other Koch-funded or affiliated groups. [36]

Powell, a GMU economics graduate (PhD), is a senior fellow at the Koch-funded Independent Institute and former president of the Association of Private Enterprise Education that itself received at least $330,500 from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation according to DeSmog’s review of public 990 tax forms. [37]


As shown in comprehensive books including Jane Mayer’s Dark Money and Nancy MacLean’s Democracy in Chains,George Mason University’s (GMU) Economics Department, and the Mercatus Center at and Institute for Humane Studies at GMU have long been key groups for recruiting, training and connecting people for Koch-funded universities and think tanks in the Koch Network. [45][46]

As I emphasize for the case of AIER and the support it gave the Great Barrington Declaration, not all support is financial, and there’s a lot of important support in terms of personnel and training that filters out from Koch-affiliated organizations to groups like AIER that allows such groups to claim plausible deniability or to discount the amount of Koch-related support as relatively inconsequential by pointing to how seemingly small any direct contributions are.

Then Kulldorff really stretches credulity with this claim:

The AIER staff did not even know about the Declaration until the day before it was signed, and the AIER president and board did not know about it until after publication.

Oh, really?

Unfortunately for Kulldorff, Jeffrey Tucker, “founder of the Brownstone Institute and an independent editorial consultant who served as Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research,” was, as the famous song from Hamilton goes, in the “room where it happened,” as he states at around 5:15 in this episode of the official podcast of the John Locke Foundation posted only a week after the confab at the AIER headquarters that led to the Great Barrington Declaration:

Let’s transcribe what Tucker said about the Great Barrington Declaration soon after it had been issued and his role in its drafting:

I was there while it [the Great Barrington Declaration] was being drafted. I was very moved. I made a couple of suggestions here and there.

Remember, Tucker is the editorial director of AIER. He’s in charge of its entire messaging apparatus. Earlier in the video, he also characterized the process of writing the Great Barrington Declaration this way:

Scientists—most scientists—are not political people. They’re in science and epidemiology and public health because they want to help people and minimize the social damage of infectious diseases and pathogens. They’re scientific people, not political people. Unfortunately, because of lockdowns, suddenly infectious disease became highly political. It never should have happened, but it happened, and they found themselves in awkward positions.

So after months and months some of them began to speak out. I noticed in particular Martin Kulldorff, and then also I noticed Sunetra Gupta, who’s a godlike figure in epidemiology, and also Jay Bhattacharya, who’s similarly a highly credentialed MD/PhD at Stanford. Sunetra is over at Oxford and Kulldorff is at Harvard. I noticed that they started to speak out a little bit. I began to feel bad for Martin because I thought that it must be a lonely life over at Harvard being against lockdowns, and he was taking a risk to his career speaking out this way. I quickly dropped him a Twitter notice, “We’ve got a nice place, why don’t you come and visit here?” We’re a few hours away. We’ll feed you well and relax a bit, and he wrote me back, “OK.”

So when I realized that Kulldorff was coming, I dropped a note to an attorney in New Jersey, Stacey Rudin, and then another one in New York who had become anti-lockdown…and said, “Listen, Martin Kulldorff is coming. Why don’t you join?” So they all came here. We had no agenda whatsoever. We went out to the cider mills, enjoyed each other’s company, got to know each other, because he had lost all of his old friends, you know….So we just had a really lovely weekend.

We’ve met Stacey Rudin before. Besides having written a number of articles for AIER, she’s the one who likened lockdowns to “slavery” and the AIER and other anti-lockdown activists as being like “abolitionists.” After Kulldorff went back home to Boston, having hung out with Tucker, Rudin, and other AIER luminaries, he emailed Tucker, as Tucker describes:

Well, within about ten days, he wrote me back and said: I have an idea. Let’s bring some high end journalists from around the country. We can meet at your place, and then I’ll get Jay Bhattacharya flown in from Stanford and then I’ll get Sunetra Gupta from Oxford. Well, I was nonplussed, thinking, “That sounds…interesting. When do you propose to do this, because we can’t do it until the 31st of October?”

He said, “No, we’re going to do it this weekend.” He said, “We can’t wait until the 31st, the crisis is too bad.”

So the next thing you know, we had all these people here, and we scrambled to get the recordings right. We didn’t have a big agenda, but we held a question-answer session. We taped a few interviews and that sort of. thing, and they wrote the declaration and released it. We built and released the website in 18 hours (something like that), and it was all kind of crazy and wonderful.

That explains this observation:

Interestingly, the Brownstone Institute describes its mission on its own website thusly:

The mission of the Brownstone Institute – which is, in many ways, the spiritual child of the Great Barrington Declaration – is constructively to come to terms with what happened, understand why, discover and explain alternative paths, and prevent such events from happening again. Lockdowns have set a precedent in the modern world and without accountability, social and economic institutions will be shattered once again. Brownstone Institute is essential in preventing the recurrence of lockdowns by holding decision makers intellectually to account. In addition, the Brownstone Institute hopes to shed light on a path to recovery from the devastating collateral damage, while providing a vision for a different way to think about freedom, security, and public life.

The “spiritual child of the Great Barrington Declaration”? Interesting. Similarly, look at the list of “senior scholars,” which includes—surprise! surprise!—two of the three main signatories of the Declaration, Jay Bhattacharya and Martin Kulldorff.

So let me get Kulldorff’s defense straight. He and his cosignatories of the Great Barrington Declaration, Jay Bhattacharya and Sunetra Gupta, traveled to AIER headquarters in Great Barrington “with no agenda,” but somehow over the course of a long weekend managed to write a declaration (with the help of at least one prominent AIER leader—the editorial director of the organization, no less!), tape a bunch of anti-lockdown interviews, and get a website up and running within 18 hours with technical help provided by AIER. That sounds like some pretty high level collaboration between AIER and the Great Barrington Declaration signatories to me!

Let me remind you what Jeffrey Tucker’s job is at AIER, as described by AIER President Edward Stringham:

Jeffrey will join me and colleagues to expand the influence of AIER, an illustrious institution founded in 1933 by MIT professor E.C. Harwood (1900–1980). AIER became the first market-oriented research institution in the world, inspiring the creation of many more and giving the liberal movement the boost it needed. An early contributor to what is now referred to as the Austrian theory of the business cycle, Harwood warned about the coming stock market crash that came in 1929, and the ill-effects of monetary expansion and devaluation on human wellbeing. He was friends with Henry Hazlitt and F.A. Hayek and his work helped shape the free-market thinking in the United States.

With the hiring of Jeffrey, I feel confident that AIER will take that necessary next steps in expanding our impact to help promoting economic knowledge in America and beyond. Thanks to his joining our team, we are honored and very excited for the future.

There’s no doubt that, through his role in facilitating and publicizing the Great Barrington declaration, Tucker succeeded beyond Stringham’s wildest expectations in expanding the impact of the AIER and its influence among governments with similar political alignments.

So the story that I perceive coming into focus is that Kulldorff, at least, was an enthusiastic participant, if not the instigator of the Great Barrington Declaration. If Tucker’s account is to be believed, AIER reached out to Kulldorff and invited him for a weekend at AIER to be wined and dined while hanging out with like-minded anti-lockdown cranks. Kulldorff, apparently thinking that he’d finally found his people, signed on enthusiastically to the AIER mission and then brought on board Bhattacharya and Gupta to help him and the AIER promote its anti-lockdown message.

I’ll conclude with one last observation. The Great Barrington Declaration was published, as I’ve pointed out, a couple of months before there were any COVID-19 vaccines available. After the vaccines did become available, you’d think that the Declaration signatories would have eagerly embraced them as part of “focused protection,” mainly because vaccinating the most vulnerable is one of the only focused protection strategies that had a chance of working well. You’d have been wrong.

Let’s see what Kulldorff wrote about vaccines when striking back against The BMJ:

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.

Gavin Yamey has the receipts to show that Kulldorff’s claim is BS. I realize that some don’t like republished Twitter threads in blog posts; so I’ve been trying to do less of it. In this case, though, I think it’s appropriate:


As a reminder:

Last month, I myself provided a few receipts myself for the antivaccine talking points now being pushed by Great Barrington Declaration signatories:

One notes that achieving herd immunity without mass illness and death is exactly the goal of a mass vaccination program.

Then there’s this:

The reason that vaccine efforts have expanded to younger people is that, in many places in the US, the level of vaccination among the elderly is high.

And what about Kulldorff himself? Here he was in July parroting antivax messaging:

As I said at the time, whenever you see what I like to call an “appeal to ancient ways of knowing,” particularly coupled with a risible claim such as that ancients “understood immunology better than we do,” run! Run as fast as you can and as far as you can! You’re dealing with a crank.

That’s not all:

Again, as I said at the time, the above statement would not have been out of place on the crankiest of crank antivaccine blogs and websites. I’ve seen variants of it many times going back two decades on sites as utterly bonkers as Mike Adams’ NaturalNews and on that wretched hive of scum and antivaccine quackery, Age of Autism. Whenever you see someone like Kulldorff likening vaccination to a religion, you’re seeing someone parrot a longstanding antivaccine talking point, whether he realizes it or not. Sadly, as we’ve seen during the pandemic, all roads from COVID-19 contrarian arguments like those made by the Great Barrington Declaration signatories seem to lead to antivaccine messaging.

Finally, if there’s one thing that Tucker’s interview, coupled with his statements and articles, has taught me, it’s that Kulldorff is clearly a true believer in the Great Barrington Declaration. That appears to me to be why he was not only so easily recruited by Jeffrey Tucker but, if Tucker’s account is to be believed, was the one who, having been recruited, spearheaded the Great Barrington Declaration under the auspices of the meeting organized by AIER and him at the AIER headquarters in Great Barrington. Of course, anyone who’s read Naomi Oreske and Erik Conway’s Merchants of Doubt knows, political and corporate interests that promote science denial (as, for example, the Heritage Foundation has long done for climate science) much prefer to use scientists who enthusiastically believe in the cause when they can find them, and boy did AIER find them in Martin Kulldorff, Jay Bhattacharya, and Sunetra Gupta.

In the end, it doesn’t much matter whether AIER paid them or not. It supported them in other ways, by facilitating bringing them together and giving them a platform to spread their message. As a result, AIER and Jeffrey Tucker got far more than they could ever have dreamed possible. To keep that message seeming credible, though, he AIER, while trumpeting the Great Barrington Declaration, has to downplay its involvement, all in order disguise the astroturf nature of its efforts. Similarly, the Great Barrington Declaration signatories have to deny being paid (or even influenced) by the AIER in order to protect their reputations and give the appearance of being objective scientists rather than political operatives. And who knows? Maybe they did travel to Great Barrington and pay for their own lodging a year ago because they so strongly believed in the cause. After all, true believers are the most potent weapons for groups like AIER.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

68 replies on “The Great Barrington Declaration strikes back”

A couple of these fakers said the pandemic would only kill a couple thousand in this country. Oops!

Just wanted to point to one tactic used by the GBD apologist quoted above. It’s the True Lie method, where you create a statement that is technically true but – at the very least – quite misleading. In this case, it’s “The BMJ article mentions ‘AIER contributor Scott Atlas’, but Dr. Atlas has never been affiliated with nor written for AIER.” Specifically “not written for…”. But they’ve published his writing, so how can that be? Well, it was reposted by AIER after being originally posted elsewhere, so it wasn’t “written for” them, but for someone else. They merely reprinted it, which, if you’re dishonest, is not (technically) the same thing.

I don’t do Twitter, but I always enjoy the threads you reproduce. Most of it from the science people is clever and succinct and the junk from the cranks is always a lesson in red flags.

Whenever I see ostensibly well-regarded scientists, physicians or educators appearing at suspect groups’ events, slanted talk shows, woo-meisters’ sites or obviously political protests/ rallies ( like GBD’s weekend getaway), I always wonder why, they, who are supposed to be well-versed in finding facts, did not look into exactly who their hosts were and what they supported. After reading Orac’s OP, in about one minute, I found a fact check site about AIER explainig their raison d’etre
Now it’s indeed possible that the scientists agree with the group’s politics but even then, shouldn’t they have been more careful being that that also might be regarded as another source of bias on their parts?
The auteurs I survey are only too welcoming to host physicians, scientists, professors and other respectable people in order to appear more legitimate themselves: shouldn’t potential guests be aware of this tendency and avoid it like the plague?

Martin Kuldorff: “The ancients understood immunology better than we do.”

Yes. They knew a lot about dying young.


Isn’t it funny how alties/ natural health advocates revere earlier eras but seem to know little about the realities of those times?
— all you have to do is read a novel of the 19th century- English, Russian, French, American- and you discover that lots of young people died – tuberculosis, various infections, results of injuries, blood loss that would be easily solvable today- many children were orphaned, many adults widowed at young ages. Often these losses provide the scaffolding upon which the novel is built.
— similarly, anti-vaxxers ( e.g. Ann Dachel) can’t fathom how there is so much autism today unlike in the past ( or mental illness- she’s over 70, trained as a teacher and should know better). What we call autism was called something else and people with this condition or ID were put in institutions far away from their families. In fact, outside large cities like NY or London, one can still see the remains of these places.

Self educated internet medical researchers seem to have missed a few details.

Ancient knowledge, in the distant future:

In the year 2521, the endemic corona virus sprouts a new variant – double-plus-plus-zeta – and there is a public panic during the 2-1/2 hours it’ll take the auto-factories to develop a vaccine and to distribute it to all eligible lifeforms across the multiverse.

“Why are all of you out here protesting?”
“We’re against lock downs. Our personally prescribed constitutions forbid any constraint. Politicians are out of touch ever since they uploaded to the hive mind.”
“Does it matter? 99% of our lives are lived virtually and every substance we require can be transmuted into existence at the push of a button. Besides, the lock down is only until 14 o’clock.”
“It’s the principle of the thing! Lock downs infringe our liberties.”
“will you take the vaccine when it’s available later today.”
“Absolutely not! I don’t want any foreign substances injected into my body. They aren’t even any clinical trials planned for artificial lifeforms.”
“Um, how do you take a pill anyway? You’re a robot.”
“That’s a really racist thing to say. Artificial lives matter, you know.”
“About the pill…”
“Only by injection, and I won’t let the auto-docs anywhere near me with a syringe full of aborted human tissue.”
“Your injection site is a zerk.”
“Whatever. They aren’t pumping any of that sludge into me. I have precious bodily lubricants to protect.”
“None of you are wearing masks.”
“We don’t breathe.”
“So how are you going to protect yourself?”
“What’s that?”
“It’s a drug that’s been around for centuries. Perfectly safe and it’s been curing variants ever since COVID19 centuries ago. The hive mind lies when it says it’s useless!”
“Where did you learn about it?”
“Is that old thing still in existence? I experienced it once while emerged in a virtual history lesson.”
“The exonet never forgets. All the original users are still there. Donald Trump friended me this morning.”
“It’s probably an advertising bot.”
“Again with the bot racism! That’s quite the regressive attitude for a pile of gray goo in a box.”
“The gray goo is a brain.”
“You don’t talk like a brain, no eyes.”
“Maybe I’ll just let you get on with your protest. Hot day today. Good thing neither of us has skin to burn.”
“Yeah, so have a lousy day while I do the important things. No more lock downs! No more lock downs!…”

If I didn’t have an eating disorder, I would think it even more funny that your writing caused me to yuck up my last cup of peaches all over my new interface/keyboard.

Orac- thinking about Schopenhauer’s saying about the three stages of truth perhaps you would be less scathing (‘risibly wrong’) if the quote were nuanced a little without altering it’s general thrust and intent. So: Many innovating truths will inevitably be met with ridicule and fierce opposition- the bigger the change the more likely the resistance. It’s in our DNA to react negatively to change in deep seated ideas, practices and behaviors. The cranks misappropriation of this experience with their ‘truth, an experience which is and has been common throughout scientific endeavors, cannot negate this fundamental human phenomena.

I love that G–le Alert — he appears almost instantly.

One of the stranger things in my life is that, 30 years down the road, I would encounter Jeff Shallit again here.

.I love that G–le Alert.

I know nothing about it. Scary. Some of these things are black boxes who knows? I don’t even think they respect/normalize machine delta. Or epsilon.

Anyone who claims that ancient people had a better understanding of immunology clearly has no understanding of history. Ancient peoples had high frequencies of children who died from infectious diseases. If ancient people understood immunology so well, they would have done something about the high levels of infant mortality due to infectious diseases.

Nobody should take any notice of what Kulldorff says about infectious diseases, because he clearly has no idea.

“If ancient people understood immunology so well, they would have done something about the high levels of infant mortality due to infectious diseases.”

They did.

They had lots of children to make up for the inevitable loss of offspring to disease. This resulted in plenty of childbirth complications and deaths from puerperal fever however, despite all their understanding of natural immunity.

BS in Mathematical Statistics
PhD in Operations Research and Industrial Engineering

There are reports of “inoculation” against smallpox going back 1000 years or so, although the sources are all reports only going back a few hundred years. Also, as Wikipedia puts it, “Inoculation originated as a method for the prevention of smallpox by deliberate introduction of material from smallpox pustules from one person into the skin of another. ” which sounds gross. And, nothing about knowledge of immunology per se.

“We went out to the cider mills, enjoyed each other’s company, got to know each other, because he had lost all of his old friends, you know….So we just had a really lovely weekend.”

Standard cult recruitment “love bombing”.

Did AIER have Kulldorf fill out a “personality test” before this gathering?

Let’s not lose track of the fact that it’s the supporters of the Great Barrington Declaration who think it’s evil and unscientific to disagree with them in print: “That such an article was published exemplifies the decay in standards of scientific journals.”

Ladies and gentlemen, Great Barrington Declaration dignitaries, we may need to double down.

It has come to my attention that the lowest of lows, the most despicable of derps on the internet (usually abbreviated as “the internet”) are libelling left and right that ya’ll, good sirs, have done gone and gotten yourselves mightily bigly butt hurt.

There is even one guy in Louisiana standing atop his rubble pile and slandering extremely loudly and threatingly at his last three remaining illegitimate nephews that

1 He signed the declaration as a joke

2 It is a lie

3 He now wants a new grandma and 5 nephews (they starved because grandma was caregiver)

4 Some other minor concessions like a new grandma and Half Life 3.

Although the alties I survey mention the GBD and AIER’s ‘esteemed’ advisory board, I wonder if these two groups address entirely different audiences which will, of course, affect what material they include in their criticism of current PH policies:
— alties/ woo-meisters are out to prove SBM wrong and do so through careful- and manipulative- references to SBM, life sciences etc trying to sound as if they actually studied something but
— groups like the AIER are fundamentally Hazlitt-Hayek fanbois and probably couldn’t care less about the detail of vaccines, immunology and PH but have already accepted GBD because of their bent, so they present more generic ideas. ( See Jon H’s reference to Kulldorff’s degrees)

I imagine that Mike Adams and other woo-meisters may attract followers who are in that same camp because of the politics/ economics not the “science”. This expands their audience beyond anti-vax mothers and clean living fanatics.

To me, one of the most painful vaccines statements from these people is the one you cited above from Prof. Yamey, where they opposed – actively opposed – widespread vaccines in India, basically arguing that over half the country should not be vaccinated.

Literally deterring life saving.

Yes, their denials of a link to AIER ring hollow, and the fact that they see a need to deny such an obvious connection is interesting.

That such an article was published exemplifies the decay in standards of scientific journals. Open and honest discourse is critical for science and public health.

I meant to comment on this bit because the irony is huge. Open and honest discourse is critical, but don’t you dare criticise our nonsense declaration!

I know that this distinction is often misunderstood and overlooked, but the commentary in BMJ is listed under ‘opinion’, as it should have been.
I can’t help but note how many people have a hard time differencing between ‘opinion’ and ‘news’, let alone ‘results’, ‘analysis’, discussion’, ‘conclusions’ etc.

I was thinking the same thing.

Talk about sour grapes, or some other PR strategy to cast blame elsewhere. I get the feeling that is part of the grift or latest PR advice. Just tell folks that critics are intimidating or trying to silence alternative viewpoints. The claim of a decay of scientific journal articles is rightly ironic if such articles published propose demonstrably harmful public health policy and little more. That a response to such an article was highlighted as bad policy and its origin exposed, seems to me, to show a reasonable theory based on evidence provided, how such articles occur and propagate to the detriment of the public and science.

Not just nonsense — but Great Nonsense!

Wikipedia has linked the Great Barrington Press Reelease to AIER for a long time – and wingnuts have tried to remove the link for months.

This was a great takedown of the Spectator article. One thing I would quibble on though: the tying of this group to the Koch Brothers. I realize the Koches are a progressive bete noire, but if you’re going to claim that anything they touch is contaminated, there goes a huge amount of work being done on criminal justice reform and drug decriminalization. The sources of funding for the GDB jokers is a lot less interesting to me than the basic facts that they are getting wrong, the misleading arguments they are employing and the hellscape view of the world they would foist on us. These guys have replaced Berenson as the biggest source of COVID disinformation on Twitter.

It’s not just the Koch brothers, though. There’s a whole right wing ecosystem of think tanks like AIER and others linked to the Kochs and similar denialist organizations. And, yes, the good causes funded or supported by the Koch brothers are so FAR outweighed by all the evil they’ve done with respect to climate science, COVID-19, our elections, opposing any health and safety regulations, etc., that I have a hard time not viewing verything they touch as “contaminated.” It’s not as though there hasn’t been a 40 year history here.

In other anti-vax news…

There was a rally yesterday in NY’s Times Square which I learned of via Katie Wright’s twitter where luminaries like RFK jr, Christiane Northup and Mary Holland appeared to oppose vaccine mandates and Covid PH measures.
Searching through the internet, I could find no references to the event on local television news/ newspapers, cable networks or general news ( MSN) BUT it was mentioned by a few altie sites, freedom sites and reports from India and China.

“Thousands” or “hundreds” appeared to show their support : NewsGaffer includes several photos of the rally which it labels as having ‘900’ attendees.
I have been learning how to estimate crowd size from my SO, a self-taught expert, and can somewhat estimate number but stick to other tell tale signs such as how the crowd is photographed which can be extremely informative- e.g. whether the photos is taken from close up or further away. Times Square is blocks long so I imagine that it would be easy to get a photo from a distance which shows the whole crowd. I notice that alties’ photos often include tricks like that.

Beyond the Great Barringtonites’ own forays into antivaccine messaging, Kulldorff being indignant at the idea that he and his colleagues are providing aid and comfort to antivaxers is amusing.

“To falsely credit the anti-vaccine movement with support from professors at Harvard, Oxford and Stanford is damaging for vaccine confidence.”

The fact is that antivaxers do think Kulldorff and his colleagues are supporting them. Among the groups approvingly citing the Great Barrington Declaration are Children’s Health Defense and the Organic Consumers Association, which both have a history of rabid antivaccine advocacy.

Maybe if Kulldorff et al would stop parroting memes from antivaxers and spend a fraction of the time they expend denouncing critics on renouncing support from AVers, we could take their protestations along these lines more seriously.

The funny thing as Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it is: “You are entitled to your opinion but you are not entitled to your facts.” Many commenters here apparently have not done any research into validating the various pogroms and dictaks issued by the Church of Government Medicine. Examples: Mask Mandates: Even the FDA on their website admits that surgical masks do not filter out virus particles. A recent Danish RCT of over 3400 participants found a difference in infection rates between the masked and unmasked of..wait for it…..less than 1%. Ask any Level 4 lab worker if a surgical mask will protect them from infection. They wear environmental suits for a reason. Surgical masks are effective for trapping droplets but not virus particles – why not be honest with the public?

Ivermectin and HCQ: After these drugs (long prescribed for humans) were very effectively eliminated from the cornucopia of approved Covid treatments, many studies have validated their effectiveness in the early treatment of Covid including studies published by the venerated National Institutes of Health. Despite this HCQ and Ivermectin are persona non grata in the Fauci alternatively universe. Ironically, there is widespread approved use of a simple mineral and a vitamin in Covid therapy cocktails, zinc and Vitamin D, which like Ivermection and HCQ, do not cure Covid but assist other targeted therapies to be more effective. Meanwhile, the approved drug Remdesivir, costing thousands of percent more, has been shown to have significantly toxic effects on the kidneys, in many cases speeding death from Covid. Money talks – science walks.

Vaccines: We were told with certainty that if we took either of the experimental vaccines that it would protect us from Covid. Turns out the experts were mostly wrong – we can still get it but have a better chance of surviving it. We were also told these vaccines were safe, which for many people they are not. Adverse reactions for other vaccines are freely published but no major media outlet reports reliable data on fatal reactions to the Covid vaccine. We were not told that the vaccines target a specific spike protein and that it would be highly likely the spike proteins would mutate, rendering the vaccine would likely no longer be effective in protecting us from Covid.

Lockdowns: We were told that lockdowns would work to stop the spread but many studies have found no statistically valid difference between states, cities, and countries that locked down and those that did not. Its stomach ulcers all over again. For decades the researcher who insisted that the bacteria heliobacter pylori was responsible for stomach ulcers received nothing but scorn from the scientific community, only to the proven right. Intellectuals have a place in society, – until they begin to see themselves as infallible – which happens when one learns more and more about less and less. One can easily begin to think that one’s expertise in a sub-sub specialty conveys some special God-like knowledge. We are not fooled. When hubris takes over and colleagues skeptical of the consensus are not only actively suppressed but find their careers being threatened, we no longer have science, we have the STASI.

The citizenry is finally waking up to the fact that science is not settled, and science is not an unquestionable gold standard. All the citizenry wanted was honesty from those “smarter” than they are and the experts have been found profoundly lacking in that area, hiding their uncertainty and their ignorance from us. The “experts” and their political allies have continually issued their guidance with complete and supreme confidence, only to have them proven wrong time after time. Citizens – even if only at a subconscious level, are waking up to the truth of Dr. Richard Feynman’s words: “Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts.” Ironically, even as the experts insist we “follow the science” the hubris of scientists is increasingly the undoing of their authority over the mere mortal community and that is a good thing as fraud in science is becoming commonplace and needs to be stamped out. Pride goeth before a fall Orac.

After these drugs (long prescribed for humans) were very effectively eliminated from the cornucopia of approved Covid treatments, many studies have validated their effectiveness in the early treatment of Covid including studies published by the venerated National Institutes of Health.

Um, no. They haven’t. Indeed, the biggest studies that claimed to find a benefit due to ivermectin were likely fraudulent. Do try to keep up:

We were told with certainty that if we took either of the experimental vaccines that it would protect us from Covid. Turns out the experts were mostly wrong – we can still get it but have a better chance of surviving it. We were also told these vaccines were safe, which for many people they are not. Adverse reactions for other vaccines are freely published but no major media outlet reports reliable data on fatal reactions to the Covid vaccine. We were not told that the vaccines target a specific spike protein and that it would be highly likely the spike proteins would mutate, rendering the vaccine would likely no longer be effective in protecting us from Covid.

This is bullshit, too. More attention has been paid to adverse reactions from COVID-19 vaccines than for any other vaccine ever developed, and still after billions of doses all over the world they are quite safe and effective. In fact, you’re spewing nothing but bullshit.

I think, Orac, this falls under “tell me you haven’t read this article, or the rest of my articles, without telling me you haven’t read them.”

Because you’ve addressed each of the points the commenter made in detail.

“Surgical masks are effective for trapping droplets but not virus particles”

You are correct. It is a good thing the virus particles are in the droplets.

Congratulations, few people manage to put so much misinformation into one post. alot of time and effort and money has gone into showing that hydroxychloroquine is basically useless for treating Covid-19 and it’s being repeated with ivermectin. As ORAC points out two of major studies supporting the efficacy of ivermectin are almost guaranteed fraudulent.

Come to Canada or visit China and tell us masking and lockdowns don’t work. Not everybody will laugh at you but most will.

Oh, no vaccine is 100% effective. If anyone includng the head of the CDC told you that and you believed them, both of you need to check facts

Snipersix: “For decades the researcher who insisted that the bacteria heliobacter (sic) pylori was responsible for stomach ulcers received nothing but scorn from the scientific community, only to the proven right.”

Sorry, you’re wrong.

You’re apparently referring to Warren and Marshall, whose paper in 1983 started the ball rolling on the connection between H. pylori and G.I. ulcers. Far from being scorned for “decades”, this report rapidly drew interest from other researchers, who over the next couple of years confirmed the bacterium’s presence. From 1988-1992 multiple studies followed ulcer patients and found that eradication of the bacterium prompted ulcer healing. By the end of that time, antibiotic therapy was becoming standard treatment, despite the presence of some holdouts. In retrospect, it’s hard to see how acceptance of Helicobacter theory could have come much faster, given problems like lack of an animal model and the presence of Helicobacter in the digestive tracts of many healthy people.

The myth about Warren and Marshall being ignored/ostracized for many years continues, largely because it fits a convenient narrative for alt med enthusiasts. But it’s false.

*of all the lame arguments against evidence-based medicine, “Medicine wuz wrong before!” is probably the most feeble. EBM gets it right, even if there are missteps along the way, and outmoded treatments are discarded. Alties virtually never admit error and cling to useless and dangerous therapies indefinitely.

“:They laughed at Copernicus. Yes, well, they also laughed at the Marx Brothers. Being laughed at does not mean you are right.”

Bad example. When were the Marx Brothers ever wrong? The proper comparison, of course, would be derisive laughter that remained well-deserved. My snarky example would be “They laughed at Michael Shermer”, except where Shermer gets it wrong I hear more curses than giggles. So, how ’bout “They laughed at Fulton, they laughed at the Wright brothers. But they also laughed at Mike Lindell.”? Oh wait, he’s probably all in with the GBD and the AIER… hmmm….

What’s Lindell up to these days? I mean other than being such an “ex” crack head that his own Mike gets cut by Newsmax TV?

Oh yea, it is all coming back to me now. That is the week he was possibly shacked/”holed up” with a one Tina Peters who may, or may not have been hiding out in a “safe house” in a “mysterious location” that Lindell “provided” her.

A Colorado judge on Wednesday barred Mesa County Clerk Tina Peters from supervising elections due to the leak of voting-system BIOS passwords to QAnon conspiracy theorist Ron Watkins.

— super sus guy given access card

— cameras disabled

— guy not my pal goes in secured area while loaded with electronics

— copys drives before and after “trusted build” breaks one

— remote management ON

— secure boot OFF

— optical/usb device boot ON

Was she attempting to retroactive continuity much? To show in the next election that they get hacked so that is what happened in 2020?

As I understand it, only a tiny fraction of the US used Dominion EMS and in some of the places that did, Trump won. Ohh, wait. They know their audience. That information is not in the alternative facts package that pays for The Crack Guys basement repair ads.

So it’s back to the CMVD for her. Probably pays better and is less stessful even though she pretended to flail around abit.

Just to clarify the Koch connection with AIER:
1) I’d never heard of them until I ran across them in 2013, as an accident of FOIA request providing an email from UK’s main climate denial group, GWPF. Search for AIER in
They were promoting doubt on climate science, but unlike many other think tanks I knew, didn’t seem obviously connected wtih Koch.

2) That started to change in 2017, search for AIER Koch Transition in:
It helps to know that while most of George Mason University is a normal school, GMU Economics is the center of Koch efforts in academe (along with Mercatus Center and Institute for Humane Studies think tanks also located at GMU). See Jane Mayer’s “Dark Money” and Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains” for the history. Starting in 2017, AIER added many GMU graduates or other Koch-related people as Trustee, President, Secretary, Members of Standing Committee, Voting Members, Research Fellows.

A little more nuanced point of view is in order. Barry Marshall talked about the nature of the criticism that was lodged against him. It was not exclusively healthy scientific skepticism. Rather it was the subliminal forces of profit, habit, big pharma etc. See his interview reference #12 on his wiki page. So no. anyone who engages in an ad homin attack is a bloviating turd. Yes I get it rs.

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