Contrarians doctors and supposedly silenced scientists
A common trope by contrarian doctors (CDs) has been to lament the supposed silencing of “heterodox” scientists (here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here). The format of this peculiar genre is generally quite predictable. First, one or more supposedly silenced scientists (SSS) are identified, though many CDs are also SSSs. Next, the SSS is praised for courageously bucking the orthodoxy on COVID. The SSS is said to be nuanced and able to recognize trade-offs that elude the myopic fools who feel the virus shouldn’t be allowed to run rampant amongst unvaccinated children and young adults.
Next, critics of the SSS are said to have an inappropriate tone, thus putting these critics on the defensive. The critics are not considered appropriately deferential to the SSS, or they’ve ignored the SSS entirely, depriving them of a massive platform to which they feel entitled. The critics themselves are mocked. CDs have said their critics do nothing but debunk cupping and homeopathy. While this describes no one, debunking rank pseudoscience can be useful. CDs have even mocked their critic’s appearances in scientific publications.
Any substantive criticism of the SSS is ignored entirely. None of that matters here.
The SSSs themselves share two important traits. First, they’ve been wrong about basically everything.
- They repeatedly underestimated COVID, saying it would only kill a fraction of the number of people who’ve died.
- They’ve repeatedly declared the pandemic over. They tell everyone else to move on, while they discuss COVID constantly.
- They repeatedly misstated basic facts, always understating the toll of the virus. In so doing, they have created many enduring myths with significant real-world consequences.
- They’ve argued against any and all measures to prevent children from getting the virus, including vaccines, masks, and testing. Several SSSs have even encouraged children to get the virus instead of the vaccine, though they bristle at any suggestion they are anything but “pro-vaccine”.
Second, despite their vocal protests, no SSS was silenced. In fact, many have become relatively famous and have left an enormous media footprint. They’ve greatly influenced our pandemic response, and several have advised powerful politicians, including the President of the United States and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. While some have faced utterly unacceptable threats, which we have all decried here at SBM, they mostly had to endure being called “fringe,” and the removal of a Tweet or two. Everyone knows who they are and what they believe. They’ve actually been quite loud.
What these defenses of SSSs are saying in essence is that it doesn’t matter that an influential scientist with a large platform repeatedly declared the pandemic over or convinced powerful politicians that unvaccinated children should contracted COVID. What really matters is that people were indecorous towards the SSS or they did not lavish the SSS with enough attention. Science and facts about the greatest mass death event in American history matter less than proper decorum towards those who helped spread the virus.
Dr. Rick Bright, an actually silenced scientist
While defenses of SSSs are generally ridiculous for these reasons alone, it’s notable that those who fancy themselves advocates for “discussion and debate” haven’t bothered to defend Dr. Rick Bright. As you may remember, Dr. Bright is an immunologist and vaccine researcher who headed the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) from 2016 to 2020. Early in the pandemic, he filed a whistleblower complaint claiming that the Trump administration “ignored his early warnings about the COVID-19 pandemic and illegally retaliated against him by ousting him from his role and demoting him to a position at the National Institutes of Health”. Likely other scientists learned from his fate and decided to keep quiet. We don’t know about them, because they were actually silenced.
In contrast to the SSSs who told Fox News viewers the pandemic threat was greatly exaggerated and that many people were dying with COVID not of COVID, Dr. Bright was clear-eyed about the danger, warning in May 2020 that:
Our window of opportunity is closing. If we fail to develop a national coordinated response, based in science, I fear the pandemic will get far worse and be prolonged, causing unprecedented illness and fatalities. Without clear planning and implementation of the steps that I and other experts have outlined, 2020 will be darkest winter in modern history.
Dr. Bright, who would sadly lose his own mother to the virus, has continued to be a staunch supporter of basing our response in science and evidence. His priority is to be honest and fair, not to be edgy or to gain paid subscribers to his Substack.
So why haven’t CDs mounted a robust defense of Dr. Bright? I suspect they neglect him entirely because from their vantage point, he has three fatal flaws:
- His dire predictions were perfectly accurate.
- He has staunchly advocated for vaccines, including for children, and for other common sense measures to control the virus.
- He suffered significant consequences for his candor.
As such, Dr. Bright doesn’t fit into the elaborate oppression fantasies of CDs. Had he been wrong about everything and suffered the deletion of a YouTube video, he certainly would have achieved SSS status.
And thus the gimmick becomes clear. CDs don’t really care about scientists who have actually been silenced. Instead, by focusing on their critics’ manners, they seek to divert the spotlight from their repeated underestimation of the virus and successful campaign to ensure tens of millions of children and young adults contracted it before they were vaccinated. Every second talking about manners is time not spent talking about how some children have suffered and how the vaccine can limit these harms. CDs want to maintain an echo chamber where they indulge the illusion they are victims of peons who dare to correct their misinformation, sometimes with impolite language.
They don’t want discussion. They don’t want debate.
They’re welcome to invite Dr. Bright to one of their podcasts to prove me wrong.