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Professor Jay Bhattacharya, who has called for focused protection rather than universal restrictions, said for the first time in 35 years of studying and teaching at Stanford he was afraid to walk openly on university grounds. He said that a ‘secret’ petition calling for him to be censored for his views on masks had been circulated and his picture was put on posters.
He said he was determined not to be intimidated, but warned that those who disagree with the “dangerous orthodoxy” that lockdowns are the only solution are routinely discredited and silenced.
This could end with science itself being “killed” under an “atmosphere of fear and repression”, he said.
The professor of medicine was one of the three authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, along with Professor Sunetra Gupta of Oxford University and Professor Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University.
This argues for focused protection instead of universal lockdowns.
The declaration was signed by infectious disease epidemiologists and public health scientists in October 2020 but also attracted much criticism, Former Health Secretary Matt Hancock said it was “simply not possible” to “segregate the old and the vulnerable on our way to herd immunity”.
But speaking to podcast Sketch Notes On A Pandemic, Prof Bhattacharya, who has advised Florida governor Ron DeSantis on its covid policy, said there was no consensus on how to tackle the pandemic.
He argued that attempts to shut down alternative viewpoints threatened free speech and science.
He said: “The atmosphere of academic discourse at Stanford in the last year and a half has been extraordinarily closed to open debate and discussion.”
He told how in the past weeks he learnt from a colleague that a petition had been making the rounds, written by a member of the epidemiology faculty and accusing him for the first time in his career of having a “dangerous opinion”.
This was in relation to his opinion that children should not be forced to wear masks. The petition, which he said was circulated in secret, called for him to be “censored” by the university.
It was accompanied by posters of him in kiosks around campus. He said: “I was actually for a few days scared to walk on campus because it seemed to me like targeted harassment or potentially a call to violence.
“I called the campus police and told them I complained to my department chair.
“Basically, no action was taken. So at some point, I just decided I’m not going to be intimidated. I mean, I have a right to be on campus.”
He added: “This is what happens when you have a lot of low quality evidence in a difficult area…It is a fact that there are no randomised controlled studies that demonstrate masking children slows disease spread. We are 19 months into the epidemic…yet there is no random evidence. There is no excuse for this.”
He said fellow academics Prof Kulldorff and Oxford University’s Prof Carl Heneghan wrote in support of his viewpoint but added “every opinion in the midst of a pandemic about this policy is dangerous one way or the other.”
He said: “The only question in my mind is, can that open discussion happen when you have a situation like this where the wrong policy kills it? I mean, it just does.
“And my view is that the lockdown policy we have followed has killed many, many people unnecessarily, and has harmed many, many people unnecessarily.
“I think that the orthodoxy is dangerous. So the question isn’t about dangerousness of opinion, the question is about the correctness of policy.”
He added he had no regrets about voicing his strongly held belief opinions although his life would have been easier.
He said: “My life would have been easier had I not written it. I wrote it because I have very grave concerns about the path that many governments have followed with these lockdowns,
I look at them as the single biggest public health mistake in history in the extent of harm that they’ve done in many, many dimensions.
“I don’t think that’s going to be a controversial opinion in just a short while.”
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And he said he had no regrets about his work on Covid. “The (Great Barrington declaration) was the best thing I’ve ever done. In a hundred years I’d sign it again. I’d sign it every time.”
He added: “[There] is a claim of consensus that doesn’t actually exist so the (lockdown) orthodoxy has become dangerous. What does one do to challenge that orthodoxy? Speak up.”
He added the fun of science was having “completely freewheeling discussion” and normally public health should have unified messaging, such as smoking is bad for you.
He said: “Here, you don’t actually have a consensus. You can see this from the signatories of the Great Barrington declaration ‑ we had tens of thousands of epidemiologists, scientists and doctors, and I’ve had many, many others who’ve written to me, saying that they were scared to speak up.
“Scientists, public health officials, epidemiologists, scared to speak up because of the atmosphere of fear that lockdown has caused in the discussion.
“People have lost their jobs for speaking up, how they’ve been discredited.
He said: “What we need is open discussion, that’s worked forever. It’s worked since the Enlightenment, let’s have that back, that actually is quite productive, right?”
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