Saturday, June 19, 2021

Lockdown zealots embrace conspiracy theory

Quacks in the Ivory Tower: How Conspiracy Theorizing Took Over Lockdown Science | American Institute of Economic Research - Philip W. Magness:

June 19, 2021 - "Is the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) simply a front for a secret global eugenics plot, hatched at AIER [American Institute of Economic Affairs] by the British Ministry of Defence and financed by the Koch Brothers as part of an ongoing effort to force climate change, tobacco, and Covid-19 infections on our senior citizens? Such claims may sound like the farcical ravings of an internet paranoiac, yet precisely this narrative has gained a shocking amount of currency among ostensibly serious public health scientists and journalists since the Declaration launched last October 4th....

"Nafeez Ahmed, a writer from a London-based blog called the Byline Times ... has spent the better part of the last year posting conspiratorial bromides against scientists who question lockdown ideology. Fresh off of an unsuccessful Twitter campaign to flood the GBD’s website with fraudulent signatures during the week after it went live, Ahmed shifted his tack in mid-October with a new charge. In a succession of blog posts, he purported to show that the GBD was part of an elaborate scheme by libertarian billionaire Charles Koch to force the reopening of the American economy in spite of Covid’s risks, using AIER as its front. After outlining the financial portion of his conspiracy theory, Ahmed quickly appended a new 'partner' in the alleged plot: the British Ministry of Defence, which he implied to be the source behind the GBD’s website. To top it off, this growing plot was allegedly orchestrated through the owner of a resort hotel in Wales....

"Contrary to Ahmed’s wild imagination, Charles Koch had absolutely no involvement with the Great Barrington Declaration or AIER’s hosting of the conference that produced it  ... (the few exceptions where a Koch-network organization has weighed in on the subject at all tend to take a pro-lockdown stance, such as the Mercatus Center’s Tyler Cowen, who awarded a research prize to Neil Ferguson of Imperial College for his Covid-19 lockdown model. AIER was one of the first high-profile critics of Ferguson’s model and continues to track its abysmal performance over the last year.)

"Although Ahmed’s batty narrative about the GBD’s origins does not withstand even minimal scrutiny, his conspiracy theories spread like wildfire on the pro-lockdown side of the epidemiology profession, and among the journalistic outlets that support them.... Paul Krugman ... promoted the product of Ahmed’s ravings.... Several of the most widely-quoted critics of the Great Barrington Declaration in the press seized on the same narrative and began repeating tall tales about nonexistent funding sources and the wholly imaginary British Ministry of Defense website scheme. Some even added new fringe theories of their own.... 

"David Gorski, a professor of medicine at Wayne State University and one of the media’s favorite go-to sources for quotes denouncing the GBD, published a blog post on October 12th where he liberally quoted and endorsed Ahmed’s conspiracy theories.... Gorski appended his own paranoid attack by branding the GBD a 'eugenics-adjacent' plot to cull and 'sacrific[e] the elderly' in the name of economics.... Gorski’s attacks are not only symptomatic of a deeply disturbed state of mind – they’re unbecoming of a scientific professional, let alone one that the media enlists for expert quotations as a primary interlocutor of the GBD.

"So did Eric Feigl-Ding*, one of social media’s most aggressive promoters of school closures and the fringe 'Zero Covid' theory. Deepti Gurdasani* of Queen Mary University in London, a principal organizer of the pro-lockdown John Snow Memorandum, similarly promoted the Byline Times conspiracy theories about the GBD’s funding. As did Gabriel Scally*, a UK-based epidemiologist who serves the pro-lockdown 'Independent SAGE' group. David Fisman*, a Canadian epidemiologist who aggressively pushed for lockdowns and school closures in Ontario, is another fan of Ahmed’s conspiracy theories....

"Justin Feldman*, a self-described 'epidemiologist of social inequality' at Harvard, ... has published a nonstop stream of frenzied allegations against lockdown critics in the public health profession, usually consisting of unsubstantiated innuendo about shady pecuniary motives behind their scholarship.

"Duke University epidemiologist Gavin Yamey* offered a 'huge shoutout to Dr. Nafeez Ahmed' for supposedly uncovering the bizarre conspiracy linking the GBD website to the British Ministry of Defense and the Welsh hotel proprietor. Elsewhere he praised the Byline Times’s 'great investigative journalism' about the GBD. Half a year later he still asserts that 'Charles Koch shaped [pandemic] policy in the US' through a group of scientists who have no tangible connection to Koch’s philanthropy.

"Columbia University virologist Angela Rasmussen*, another frequent critic of the GBD in the press, embraced the funding conspiracy theory ... accusing the three scientists of being part of a 'propaganda campaign' in the service of AIER’s supposed goal of 'ignore the pandemic, let’s get back to making money via unfettered capitalism.'

"Martin McKee*, a public health professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine who denounced the GBD as a 'fringe view' shortly after its publication, has a habit of giving his endorsement to Ahmed’s conspiracy theories about the very same document. Ahmed’s crazy tales of intrigue have another fan in Robert Dickinson*, a professor of medicine at Imperial College London and signer of the pro-lockdown John Snow Memorandum. Snow Memorandum signer Hisham Ziauddeen* promotes the same conspiratorial claims, in addition to his own blogging against the GBD for Ahmed’s outlet. Epidemiologist Gregg Gonsalves of Yale, another of the media’s favorite sources for ad hominem-laced anti-GBD hot takes, apparently concurs with Ahmed’s paranoid ravings. So does the University of Washington’s Carl Bergstrom*, another press favorite for expert statements defending lockdowns. 

"Keep in mind that these endorsements of Ahmed involve claims that are not simply dubious or uncharitable interpretations – they are factual falsehoods that have entered the talking points of scientific experts who simply agree with their associated political connotations and believe that repeating them enough will discredit an opposing viewpoint. As matters of scientific analysis though, it would not be inaccurate at this point to state that leading academics on the pro-lockdown side of the Covid political debate are now regularly relying upon the paranoid ravings of a conspiracist blogger as one of their primary sources for attacks upon the Great Barrington Declaration."

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* - signatories of the John Snow Memorandum

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