by Jay Bhattacharya & Martin Kulldorf
Tuesday, 29
March 2022
Debate
10:53

For pro-lockdown campaigners, all roads lead to the Kochs

The attempts to smear critics of lockdowns as Right-wingers will only backfire
by Jay Bhattacharya & Martin Kulldorf
Charles Koch is the only surviving member of the Koch brothers

During the Covid-19 pandemic, tribal politics have pushed scientific discourse into the back seat. Scientists who provide their honest assessment of medical and public health data have often been subject to ad hominem attacks and slander.

When Left-leaning journalists defend the government’s pandemic strategies by falsely classifying opponents as Right-wing, it hurts the Left while boosting the Right. The latest example is an article in the New Republic with one of the most far-fetched personal attacks we have seen since March 2020 — a true accomplishment during a pandemic filled with logical somersaults.


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The target is Urgency of Normal, a group of physicians and medical scientists arguing against the masking of toddlers and children. The group includes Dr Vinay Prasad, a physician, epidemiologist, and associate professor at the University of California in San Francisco. With colleagues at Harvard and the University of Colorado, he wrote the most thorough scientific review of the efficacy of masks against Covid. They concluded that “data to support masking kids was absolutely absent.”

The New Republic article is called ‘Why Is This Group of Doctors So Intent on Unmasking Kids?’ The straightforward answer is that the doctors concluded that there is no reliable scientific evidence that masks on children reduce disease spread alongside a strong presumption that they may harm some children. The New Republic dismisses this possibility, claiming that “the science is strong” that masks help to “quell the pandemic”, and that there is “‘little scientific disagreement”. The last point is self-evidently untrue given the participation by many eminent scientists in the Urgency of Normal itself.

The essay then goes full ad hominem, attempting to link Dr. Prasad to “libertarian” efforts by the Koch family to unmask children via a convoluted chain of supposed associations, each of which is weak and the combined effect of which is simply conspiracy (see below). It appears that the New Republic, once a fierce critic of Sen. Joe McCarthy, has now embraced McCarthy’s guilt-by-association techniques.

Dr. Prasad is an excellent epidemiologist, but to paraphrase the New Republic, it seems “that the days of listening to the epidemiologists are over”. They are not alone. The Daily Poster/Lever and Jacobin magazine have used similar ad hominem arguments to falsely “connect” lockdown opponents with the Koch network, falsely claiming that the two of us are “connected to Right-wing dark money”. Our closest and only financial “connection” to the Koch Network is to have worked for universities, Stanford and Harvard, which have received millions of dollars from Koch foundations, although unrelated to any of our own work.

In the summer of 2020, Jacobin magazine interviewed one of us about lockdowns and their devastating effects on children and the working class. Their reader’s reactions were illuminating. The public criticism from high-profile individuals was harsh, calling us Trumpian, among other things. But, we also received many private letters from Jacobin readers, thanking us for saying what they were thinking but did not dare to say in public.

Views on pandemic strategies do not map onto a simple Left/Right binary. In the United States, Dr Anthony Fauci’s lockdowns were implemented by both Republicans and Democrats, generating enormous collateral damage to education, cancer, cardiovascular disease, vaccination rates, mental health, and hunger, to name a few malign outcomes. More often than not, members of the working class were the hardest hit. In Europe, the social democrats in Sweden chose not to copy Fauci’s response to the pandemic. One contributing factor may have been that its prime minister came from the working class, having started his career as a welder.

Classifying those like Dr Prasad as “Right-wing” for taking different views on pandemic restrictions is only damaging to the Left. Instead of permitting the Right to claim full credit for opposing misguided Covid policies, the Left should rightly claim some of that credit — Dr Prasad is, after all, on the Left himself. Instead, publications like the New Republic seem intent, not merely on smearing scientists instead of learning from them, but on driving reasonable men and women to the Right.

 

 

The New Republic’s convoluted attempt to associate Dr Prasad with the Koch family, in full:

  1. Prasad ‘writes for the Brownstone Institute for Social and Economic Research.’ (The Brownstone Institute, with no Koch connections, has republished Dr. Prasad’s Substack articles without payments.)
  2. The Brownstone Institute’ advocates for a more libertarian approach to the pandemic’. (Brownstone is not a libertarian organisation. It advocates for a more scientific approach to the pandemic based on basic principles of public health. It has attracted writers from across the political spectrum.)
  3. The Brownstone founder ‘consults for the American Institute for Economic Research’ (AIER). (He is a former employee without current ties.)
  4. AIER ‘receives funding from the Charles Koch Foundation.’ (One grant only, which paid <1% of AIER expenses in 2018.) AIER ‘receives funding’ from the ‘Koch-funded public relations firm Emergent Order and Emergent Order which also aided the Great Barrington Declaration.’ (Neither is true.)
  5. ‘One Koch-backed group has been linked to school unmasking efforts.’ (A mother’s anti-mask letter was circulated by a women’s group with some Koch funding. In contrast, a Koch-backed group have funded the pro-lockdown Covid work of Prof. Neil Ferguson at Imperial College.)

 

Martin Kulldoff, Ph.D., is an epidemiologist, biostatistician, and a former professor of medicine at Harvard University. Jay Bhattacharya, M.D., Ph.D., is an epidemiologist, health economist, and professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Both are senior scholars at the Brownstone Institute and founding fellows at the Academy for Science and Freedom.

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Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
8 months ago

This is article is absolutely spot on. It is quite extraordinary how any reasonable scientific and medical discourse has been quelled and censored during the course of the pandemic. No surprise then that every mitigation effort imposed by Fauci and state Governors in the US and measures imposed in the UK have proven not just useless but extremely harmful. Further, they have led to a climate of COVID fear which is completely unjustified by the nature of the illness. It should have been evident from the get go that Focussed Protection of the vulnerable was the only reasonable strategy.

Last edited 8 months ago by Johann Strauss
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
8 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

What we clearly need is some pruning and regulation of the press. It has not just ceased to serve any useful function but has become a danger

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
8 months ago

Unfortunately any pruning and regulation of the press would be carried out by those that the press has so often misguidedly supported in their policy choices.

What is needed are more journalists of an independent cast of mind educated to understand scientific subjects, logic and statistics. Without these skills the journalist becomes a mere purveyor of ideas that accord with their political predilections.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
8 months ago

No, we need pruning and regulation of ‘what can be done as a charity’ and ‘corporate donations to same’, along with some nice lawsuits for slander and libel.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
8 months ago

I’d be very wary about that indeed! Who would be regulating the Press? It would be left-leaning ‘woke’ bureaucrats obsessed with ‘diversity’ (except of views, natch), ‘safety’ and ‘hate crimes’.

Some of the best critiques of lockdowns have come from parts of the press on both sides of the Atlantic, not enough, but publically funded bodies have been utterly supine and conformist without exception.

Last edited 8 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

Yes, I am amazed how some people imagine that regulation by regulatory authorities staffed by useless lefties would lead to public spaces open to diverse views.
It will be more like Russia and China.
I would love to be proven wrong…
Any bets?

John Wilkes
John Wilkes
8 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

The climate of fear which you mention is entirely intentional. The only way in which an entire population can be kept supinely quiescent at being confined to their homes indefinitely is to terrify them.
The left’s revolting ad hominem attacks are not confined to Covid. In the UK they are used against all opponents, all the time supported by the MSM. Whether the subject is Covid, climate change, health, education or any other subject you can mention the approach is identical.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Yes, you sound so logical and scientific on this subject.
However, you are one of the main Russian stooges on this forum defending Russian genocide in Ukraine.
Yes Fauci is terrible fraud, but nothing like Putin/Hitler..

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrew F

You shouldn’t put words in my mouth regarding Ukraine. I am absolutely not a Putin stooge nor am I defending his actions in Ukraine. I simply pointed out that one has to look at the whole picture and the West has been poking the Russian bear vis a vis Ukraine for a long time, so its not surprising that the bear has decided to bite back. I am also pointing out that Ukraine is far from a democratic state as defined by the US, U.K. and western Europe, and is a very corrupt country. So while the invasion, the war and consequent loss of life is absolutely tragic, it is not evident that we in the West should interfere as, given our record over the last 20 years, we may well make things a lot lot worse for the Ukrainians. Indeed, I would argue that our interference in Ukrainian internal politics led to the current situation, as had been predicted by many others.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
8 months ago

The ‘left’ is no longer of the ‘working class’. It eminates from ‘Uni’ and infects all the institutions of the bourgeois state and corporations. In turn the working class and lower middle class have been labelled (by the ‘left’) as ‘right’ since, as previously, their interests are opposed to those of the bourgeois state. Thus ‘right’ has become know as ‘left’ and visa versa. Yet everything else in this power-dynamic has remained the same.

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Smith

It always did. Leftism was never truly a pursuit of the working classes, which is why Marx never bothered to visit an actual factory or mine during his lifetime despite being invited by friends who owned them. It’s why communism was always implemented by book-obsessed ‘intellectuals’. We think of leftism as something to do with the working classes today, only because its luminaries successfully used the workers in the same way they use women and black people today. By claiming to stand up for oppressed groups they could obtain support and cast their goals in a moral light.
In reality the moment those groups get in the way of the actual goals they’re thrown under the bus. For example: our incredibly non-racist leaders immediately forgot about how Black Lives Matter the moment black Americans decided to refuse the vaccines at a much higher rate than whites, and were thus disproportionately affected by mandates. One moment BLM and the next moment BLDM to the public sector ruling classes, because they never cared about black people to begin with.

joe hardy
joe hardy
8 months ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

That’s correct, Norman. The lack of equity to minority communities affected by the vaccine mandates never made any ripples in the media. Also interesting to note what an absolute disaster defunding the police has been to inner city communities. Violent crime, homelessness, murder, drug abuse and the breakdown of law and order has overtaken our cities. If we truly cared about our black brothers and sisters we would immediately change course from the present policies. Instead, our present leaders appear to be doubling down on the ideology. One that seems to destroy the merely good for the utopian perfect. If you need a clear example of this, look no further than Portland, Oregon.

Laura Creighton
Laura Creighton
8 months ago

The New Republic may be correct that we would all be better off if scientists and journalists did not receive funding from the Charles Koch foundation. But if this is so,we would also be all better off if scientists and journalists did not receive funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Somehow I doubt they are up for investigating whether limiting the power of these unaccountable organsations would be a good idea in general. It’s all about whose ox is being gored.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
8 months ago

“But if this is so,we would also be all better off if scientists and journalists did not receive funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.”

I could not agree more with that point. As you point out, this is not about a principle.

Kevin Casey
Kevin Casey
8 months ago

I agree but you might also add Fauci’s name to that list as he controls a major portion of drug research funding in the US and has managed to cultivate an obsequious media class during his tenure.

Andrea X
Andrea X
8 months ago

This should be read in conjunction with the article on China from today’s unHerd. We seem to be ready to criticize others, but we are quite unwilling to examine what our actions have been, taking for granted that we have been 100% virtuous from the start.
Until the day comes when we acknowledge our (government’s along with our) shortcomings covid will never be really over (if anything because there will be a new one).

Andrea X
Andrea X
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Why TF my comment should attract a downvote is beyond me. It must be from one of the lockdown fanatics mentioned above.

Lesley van Reenen
Lesley van Reenen
8 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Because these people are among us. They are everywhere. Driving alone and masked in their cars. Sitting in their jim jams for years in front of the telly waiting for their furlough money… oh well – the state will save me because the the economy is a beast that exists outside of logic. Hanging onto every word from corporate media and big businesses like Pfizer.
Face facts. They aren’t smart and this has at last been proven.

Raymond Inauen
Raymond Inauen
8 months ago

Wearing masks gives people a false sense of security. It is instinctive and the admission that masks have very little effect on the virus makes people feel helpless. This helplessness is why masks are so popular, despite all the evidence that they do not stop the spread. So when you cover your face, you feel like you have some kind of security and you’re taking action. Not being able to take action would mean being exposed and vulnerable – something no one wants to admit. It is a human trait that we want control over our bodies, even if that control is illusory.

Last edited 8 months ago by Raymond Inauen
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
8 months ago

I used to think I was on The Left, where goodness resides.

But I was accused so many times of being on The Right, callous and selfish, for uttering yesterday’s commonplace commonsense that I eventually thought,
OK, I’m on The Right, so what?

I began to despise The Left’s addiction to OPM , dressed up as compassion, to solve the latest Problem.

So now if I hear an argument against some new idiocy because “it harms The Left”, I think, “Good, let it happen”.

Paul Smithson
Paul Smithson
8 months ago

Odd that many people think goodness resides on the left.

The truth is that most people, no matter their political hue, are good people with compassion who genuinely care.

The difference now is that the left seem to think that they have a monopoly on compassion and will shout and go bug-eyed at anyone who doesn’t agree exactly with their interpretation of compassion, even if it isn’t particularly well thought through.

So the ‘compassionate’ lefties will kneel for BLM, wear the mask to protect others, and fly the Ukrainian flag, and they’ll change their social media profile pic to make sure everyone knows how compassionate and righteous they are, but then do nothing at all, except maybe a token donation, to actually help.

Whereas other people (including some genuinely freethinking lefties) will skip the virtue signalling and dive in to finding real solutions. Alas, these people will then be branded far-right by the virtue signallers who haven’t actually given any thought to real solutions.

There are good people on all sides who are trying to find answers and get to the real truth on all of these issues. It is just a shame that those who are quick to virtue signal but slow to do any actual research are the ones who get the attention.

Last edited 8 months ago by Paul Smithson
Norman Powers
Norman Powers
8 months ago

The core problem here, that the writers don’t even try to address, is the pervasive assumption in academia that libertarianism is evil. The focus of this article is trying to rebut the notion of any link between good hearted wide eyed epidemiologists and the Evil Koch Brothers (insert scary musical sting here).
Maybe …. maybe …. and I know, this is crazy, so work with me here …. maybe the Koch Brothers aren’t really evil, and accepting money from them would be fine. Maybe the actual problem here is the pervasive authoritarian extremism in academia? You know, the one that causes academics to fall over themselves to not be associated with “the Right” because that might imply you’re in favor letting the population make their own choices, instead of top-down mandates from bureaucrats in hoc to crap academic pseudo-science?
The vast bulk of these people produce reams of garbage research papers, which invariably seem to support controlling every aspect of people’s lives, yet we see nary a whimper of disagreement. How many of these researchers were opposed on the record to NPIs before lockdown began? The concept wasn’t actually new and the idea it is, is a distraction.

R Wright
R Wright
8 months ago

We are through the looking glass now. Thankfully only a handful of leftists read that dross anyway, so they’re just telling their (tiny) audience what they want to hear. It can be safely ignored and treated in the same manner as Huffington Post, Vice, Pink News and Buzzfeed.

Terence Fitch
Terence Fitch
8 months ago

I don’t think there are now ‘lockdown campaigners’ in the UK or the Western world. Perhaps only China? Hindsight is a great thing and it’s easy to the forget the pre vaccine period. The folk I take issue with are the anti vax anti lockdown brigade smugly hiding behind a vaccinated population but shouting they ‘knew’ they were right about lockdowns now we don’t need them since vaccines. That said we’re currently back up to 18000 hospitalisations above ‘normal’ on a seven day average. Glad I’m not a doctor explaining why a bed isn’t available. Obviously we can cope by spending more and raising taxes.