In the email below, Dr. Francis Collins, then the director of the NIH, described the signers of the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) as “fringe epidemiologists” simply because they proposed to tame COVID in 3-6 months by spreading SARS-CoV-2. As humanity had never previously controlled a virus by spreading that virus, Dr. Collins proposed a “quick and devastating published take down of its premises.”  Dr. Collins disagreed with the simultaneous mass infection of hundreds of millions of unvaccinated, “not vulnerable” Americans with a new, mutating virus and considered writing a thorough rebuttal of the premises of the GBD.

The horror.


When this email emerged a year later via a FOIA request, it caused quite a stir, especially considering the GBD was simply a one-page statement written under the watchful eye of a man who has ties to overly racist organizations and supports child labor and child smoking. Moreover, the authors of the GBD were already very famous and influential. They met with President Trump in August 2020, and he later echoed their talking point about “protecting the vulnerable”. The day after the GBD was signed, its authors met with Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and they would later advise Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.  They’ve made countless YouTube videos, written numerous editorials, and have enormous social media presences. They’ve become ubiquitous pandemic celebrities. They been everywhere, except a hospital.

Despite this, the GBD authors are livid they’ve not been given enough stages to perform upon.

They’ve been on far-reaching podcasts claiming they’ve been “censored”. They’ve said the same thing on national TV programs. They’ve written editorials in international newspapers claiming they’ve been “muzzled.” They lament attempts to “censor and silence scientists” to their hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers. They even opened an Academy for Science and Freedom at Hillsdale College to counter “the silencing and censoring of scientists“. Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, who never treated a COVID patient, took great umbrage at being called “fringe” in a private email, making a whole YouTube video to share his pain. He even said there mere proposal of a written criticism of his premises was a “propaganda attack”.  He said:

So now I know what it feels like to be the subject of a propaganda attack by my own government. Discussion and engagement would have been a better path.

The Wall Street Journal wrote an article titled “How Fauci and Collins Shut Down Covid Debate,” which argued that top government health officials should either praise the premises of the GBD or extend a megaphone to its authors. They felt a written critique of the premises of the GBD was utterly inappropriate. Dr. Vinay Prasad agreed that the written exchanges of ideas amongst scientists was unprofessional. He too wanted a public production. In an article titled “At a Time When the U.S. Needed Covid-19 Dialogue Between Scientists, Francis Collins Moved to Shut it Down,” he said:

Collins’s response to a memo signed by thousands of scientists should not have been to call for an immediate and devastating take down, but to use his pulpit as NIH director to hold a series of public discussions and dialogues. In a world where scientists were trapped in their own homes for months, a series of dialogues — even virtual ones — made available for the broader scientific community, policy makers, and the public would have benefited us all.

This all strikes me as very odd. Had I gotten together with a few of my buddies and written a short letter, I wouldn’t presume I was then owed a series of “public discussions and dialogues” with anyone, especially top public health officials. Further, I wouldn’t claim to be a victim of a “propaganda attack” if someone proposed a written a critique of the premises of our letter. I wouldn’t have a meltdown if someone called me “fringe”.

However, the GBD was much more than just a few sheltered doctors who got together to talk shop. They wrote a Declaration you see, and there were journalists and a camera crew ready to capture whole affair. The two-hour video that resulted has been watched 163,000 times on YouTube. The GBD was a spectacle above all else, and many people felt Dr. Collins had no right to deprive the public of more entertainment.  (Dr. David Gorksi has written previously on why such “debates”, which reward linguist virtuosity not scientific acumen, are generally a bad idea.)

And that’s what the pandemic has become for the commentariat class. A public performance. Reality TV.  A play, where actors must perform their assigned role. Social media has so warped some people that they can’t conceive of reality outside of it. I previously wrote how my critics no longer even pretend to engage in discussions on science and data. Instead, they just pander to their followers via yet another juvenile Twitter dunk.

This sad state of affairs was made clear during a Twitter exchange between vaccine-developer Dr. Peter Hotez, Elon Musk, and “heterodox” podcaster Joe Rogan, who recently gave a platform to anti-vaccine uber-crank Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Dr: Peter Hotez:

Spotify Has Stopped Even Sort of Trying to Stem Joe Rogan’s Vaccine Misinformation. It’s really true ⁦@annamerlan⁩ just awful. And from all the online attacks I’m receiving after this absurd podcast, it’s clear many actually believe this nonsense.

Joe Rogan:

Peter, if you claim what RFKjr is saying is “misinformation” I am offering you $100,000.00 to the charity of your choice if you’re willing to debate him on my show with no time limit.

Dr. Peter Hotez

Joe, you have my cell, my email, I’m always willing to speak with you

Joe Rogan:

This is a non answer. I challenged you publicly because you publicly quote tweeted and agreed with that dogshit vice article. If you’re really serious about what you stand for, you now have a massive opportunity for a debate that will reach the largest audience a discussion like this has ever had. If you think someone else is better qualified, suggest that person.

Elon Musk:  

He’s afraid of public debate, because he knows he’s wrong.

Let’s be clear about what happened here. As with reactions to Dr. Collins’ email, Rogan and Musk told Dr. Hotez in effect, “Vaccines are dangerous unless you show up and perform for me on demand. The people demand a show.” And that’s what endless calls for “debates” fundamentally are. The “debate me bros” are so completely divorced from the consequences of their words, they fail to see science as anything except as a verbal beauty pageant, even when children’s lives are a stake. Rogan could have simply invited Dr. Hotez on his program to discuss vaccines, but that wouldn’t have been good theater, which is all he cares about.

Unlike Dr. Hotez, Rogan and most of his “free-thinking” fans have no skin-in-the-game. They’ve experienced the pandemic exclusively on Twitter or in the podcast booth. They’ve never treated a sick child, and they never will. For them, a deadly virus is just something to “debate”, another way to entertain the masses, even if they must debase themselves by giving a microphone to a man like RFK, Jr. who lies as naturally as he breathes (watch this).  

Though calls for “debates” are made by unserious people, unserious people can do serious damage when they are willing to spread disinformation about vaccines- all because a doctor with principles is wise enough not to play his part in their absurd theater, even if that means he’ll be stalked at home by anti-vaxxers.



  • Dr. Jonathan Howard is a neurologist and psychiatrist who has been interested in vaccines since long before COVID-19. He is the author of "We Want Them Infected: How the failed quest for herd immunity led doctors to embrace the anti-vaccine movement and blinded Americans to the threat of COVID."

Posted by Jonathan Howard

Dr. Jonathan Howard is a neurologist and psychiatrist who has been interested in vaccines since long before COVID-19. He is the author of "We Want Them Infected: How the failed quest for herd immunity led doctors to embrace the anti-vaccine movement and blinded Americans to the threat of COVID."