A tenured Stanford professor who called into question the efficacy of mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, lockdowns, masking for infants, and Dr. Anthony Fauci’s recommendations throughout the pandemic gave a damning evaluation of the state of critical thought and academic freedom earlier this month, suggesting that they are not dying on campus but dead.
Dr. Jay Bhattacharya is a tenured professor of medicine at Stanford University, where he directs the Stanford Center on the Demography of Health and Aging. He is also a research associate at the National Bureau of Economics Research and a senior fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research.
Earlier this month, Bhattacharya raised the matter of a censorious and dialogue-averse university community at the Academic Freedom Conference at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the conference was met with fierce opposition in the days and weeks leading up to the event.
The aim of the conference was “to identify ways to restore academic freedom, open inquiry and freedom of speech and expression on campus and in the larger culture.”
A host of Stanford academics signed an open letter accusing the observers of trolling Stanford with their talk of academic freedom, claiming that the event would not leave the university “unscathed.”
The letter called on Stanford to “emphatically dissociate itself” from the event, going so far as to accuse gay Pay-Pal cofounder Peter Thiel, who made remarks at the event, of homophobia and other speakers of racism.
Those opposed to the event were altogether unable to prevent Bhattacharya from joining a panel titled, “Academic Freedom Applications: Climate Science and Biomedical Sciences,” and stating, “We live in an era where … you have a scientific bureaucrat who ironically tells the world that if you question him, you’re not simply questioning the man, you’re questioning science itself.”
Bhattacharya was referencing Fauci’s suggestion that by criticizing him — the scientist who ran the agency that funded dangerous gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab — “you’re really attacking not only Dr. Anthony Fauci, you’re attacking science.”
“We have a high clerisy that declares from on high what is true and what is not true,” Bhattacharya suggested, adding that the collapse of academic freedom has accelerated significantly in the last two of the 36 years he has spent at Stanford.
“When you take a position that is at odds with the scientific clerisy, your life becomes a living hell,” Bhattacharya told the conference. “You face a deeply hostile work environment.”
He emphasized that while the university prides itself on having academic freedom, nothing could be further from the truth, especially when “academic freedom only matters when you take controversial positions.”
Academic Freedom Applications Climate Science and Biomedical Sciences
Bhattacharya expounded on his thinking in a recent interview with Fox News Digital, saying, “The basic premise is that if you don’t have protection and academic freedom in the hard cases, when a faculty member has an idea that’s unpopular among some of the other faculty – powerful faculty, or even the administration … if they don’t protect it in that case, then you don’t have academic freedom at all.”
“Power replaced the idea of truth as the guiding light,” he added, noting how many scientific communities were cowed into uniformity and uncritical thinking during the pandemic.
Nothing against or outside the state’s official narrative
Bhattacharya was one of three authors of the Oct. 4, 2020, “Great Barrington Declaration,” a document expressing “grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies” and recommending instead a “focused protection” approach.
According to the declaration, public resources should be focused on those most vulnerable to succumbing to COVID-19. Everyone else who is at minimal risk should build up natural immunity and “resume life as normal.”
Anticipating the fallout of lockdowns and school closures, Bhattacharya and his co-authors recommended that schools and universities remain open for in-person teaching; extracurricular activities resume; and low-risk adults work normally, rather from home.
At the Academic Freedom Conference, he noted that the purpose of the document was to “tell people that there was an alternative and that the scientific community had not coalesced around a single lockdown-focused policy … that there was not a scientific consensus in favor of lockdown, that in fact many epidemiologists, many doctors, many other people – prominent people – disagreed with the consensus.”
Last year, CNN called him “crazy” and accused him of spreading “dangerous COVID disinformation.”
Fox News Digital reported that extra to the media, he was also denounced by so-called health leaders, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Anthony Fauci, who deemed his declaration “nonsense and very dangerous.”
In his talk, Bhattacharya referenced former National Institutes of Health (NIH) director Dr. Francis Collins’ letter to fellow health bureaucrats imploring them to issue a “quick and devastating published take down” of the declaration’s premises.
— Phil Magness (@Phil Magness)
Bhattacharya previously told UnHerd that early in the pandemic, “there was a debate going on inside the scientific community, and Tony Fauci and the federal government of the United States could not abide that […] because they implemented an extraordinary policy that required absolute consensus.”
While the government “suppressed and censored and smeared” independent thinkers and critical scientists, there was no support to be found on campus, only “a chill.”
Bhattacharya said that one student who had sought to have the Stanford professor publicly discuss his declaration was reportedly met with “reprisals,” given the prevailing noting that “platforming [Bhattacharya] was a dangerous thing.”
Bhattacharya suggested that what is actually dangerous is refusing to platform opposing or alternate views: “If you have a legitimate scientific view, a legitimate policy view, to not speak of it … sends a message that we do not care about the truth.”
He indicted the university, particularly its leaders, suggesting that their refusal to support those on campus with differing viewpoints made it abundantly clear that “academic freedom is dead … and if university leaders do not stand up for it, they do not deserve the positions they have.”