The following remarks were delivered by 2022 Encounter Prize winner Scott W. Atlas, MD at the Encounter Books Gala in Washington, DC on December 1st, 2022.
I want to sincerely thank everyone at Encounter for this wonderful honor. Thank you, Roger. Thanks to everyone involved. It is a great honor for me to be here, and especially to receive this from my colleague, my friend, and a true leader whom I deeply respect and admire, Larry Arnn.
It is a great blessing to have been given the opportunity–the rare opportunity–to help my country, my fellow citizens, in a time of crisis. Most people never get that chance–to try to do so much good, for so many. I am very thankful for that.
To others who might find themselves in this situation one day: no matter how difficult it may seem to speak the truth against a tidal wave of hostility, character assassination in national and international media, death threats, and little to no defense, not even from my own employer… it was never even a remote consideration for me to give up, to stop speaking out.
First, because people were dying–as a direct result of grossly wrong policies advocated by incompetent bureaucrats and non-thinking academics. The Birx-Fauci lockdowns were contrary to the data, to fundamental biology, and to simple logic–unethical, reckless, pseudoscientific policies that failed to stop the spread of the infection, failed to stop the deaths, and themselves inflicted great harm, especially on our children and on the poor. These failures had to be called out, I had to try to change things.
Second, it became apparent that so many people desperately wanted to hear the data spoken logically, to have the scientific truth clarified. I received thousands of emotional emails from seniors, priests, teachers, students, doctors and scientists, fathers and mothers, whose husbands and daughters were committing suicide from the isolation and lockdowns. They implored me–literally begged me–to keep it up, because they were afraid. I could never let them down.
And third–I knew I had the backing of the strongest, truest person I have ever known–my wife, who is here tonight.
Let’s briefly consider some facts, the contextual background we must acknowledge.
We must acknowledge that the pandemic has been a great tragedy, there can be no doubt about that. But it has also exposed profound issues in America that now threaten the very principles of freedom and order that we Americans often take for granted.
Under two separate administrations–those of both Trump and Biden–the United States’ management of the pandemic has been a failure. In deaths per million we are among the worst compared to our peer nations–a straight line of increase over the pandemic, no change in the slope of that line even after the vaccines were released, beginning in December 2020.
But we have witnessed something more fundamental than a mismanaged pandemic–we have witnessed a shocking failure of leadership in our country, one that has destroyed trust in the important institutions that we rely on as a free-thinking, objective, and democratic society.
Any judgment of the US response belongs to Drs. Birx, Fauci, Redfield, the CDC, and the university experts who convinced officials to implement their lockdown strategy. They got what they wanted. Their policies were implemented throughout the nation. And their policies failed–failed to stop death, failed to stop infection from spreading, and inflicted massive health damage, death, and destruction of its own, particularly on lower income families, and on our children. That is fact, as borne out by the data.
But we have witnessed something more fundamental than a mismanaged pandemic–we have witnessed a shocking failure of leadership in our country, one that has destroyed trust in the important institutions that we rely on as a free-thinking, objective, and democratic society. And now we are faced with a tremendous challenge as a nation–to restore that trust, and, in a larger sense, to restore the essential values required of a free and ethical society.
Why am I concerned about ethical values in our society?
First, consider America’s lockdown and school closure policy.
Almost all of western Europe recognized the spring 2020 data all over the world proving the miniscule risk to healthy children for serious illness, so they opened schools for the 2020-21 school year, even during otherwise stringent lockdowns; yet, most of America’s governors closed in-person schools for the school year.
What happened during America’s school closures?
• Hundreds of thousands of child abuse cases went unreported, since schools are the number one agency reporting that abuse.
• Mental health disorders in teenagers and college-aged children skyrocketed.
• Self-harm by teenagers doubled to tripled versus 2019.
• Overdoses and substance use disorders in teenagers increased by from 40 to 120%.
• Massive learning losses directly from the shutdowns: the NAEP 2022 Report Card reported the largest score drops in math since the first assessments more than 30 years ago.
The sinful legacy of those who advocated for closing schools, including our largest teachers’ unions, was recently highlighted in UNICEF’s “The State of Global Learning Poverty: 2022 Update – published by the World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, USAID, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which stated “…school closures have disproportionally affected students from disadvantaged backgrounds…” and “…learning losses are concentrated among poor students.”
I thought we were in a society that cared about the poor and the low-income families, one that prioritized our children?
A second measure of an ethical society is illustrated by America’s COVID vaccination policy for children, especially when compared that to our peer nations.
• UK’s vaccine advisory committee, September 2021: “The margin of benefit … is considered too small to support advice on a universal programme of vaccination of otherwise healthy 12 to 15-year-old children…”
• Finland’s Ministry of Health, June 2021: “People under 16 who are not in a (high) risk group will not be vaccinated in Finland …”
• Norway’s Institute of Public Health, 2020/2022: “For children who are offered the coronavirus vaccine … parents must consent to vaccination … Vaccination is voluntary.”
• Denmark’s Health Authority, 2022: “it will no longer be possible for children and young people under the age of 18 to get the … jab.”
• And the US? October 26, 2021: “we’re never going to learn about how safe this vaccine is unless we start giving it. That’s just the way it goes.” Eric Rubin, MD, Editor-in-Chief, NEJM, FDA Advisory committee on pediatric vaccines.
Across the United States, almost all colleges and universities required, and still require, vaccination, boosters, testing and quarantining of healthy asymptomatic children. Yet, back in October, 2020, even without any vaccine, the CDC posted on its website for schools: “It is unethical and illegal to test someone who does not want to be tested…”
Now, that CDC posting has been removed and cannot be found.
Meanwhile, many of our so-called elite medical centers–Duke, Hopkins, Stanford among others, all sponsored by Pfizer–are shamefully engaged in an NIH clinical trial of vaccines–injecting healthy infants and toddlers with an experimental drug, for a disease they have no significant risk from. Is that standard medical ethics?
In April 2022, Moderna filed for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for their multivalent vaccines in infants and toddlers–based on a blood test of antibody level.
• Not on protection from hospitalization or death? Because no one, even in the placebo group, suffered that.
• Not on protection from symptomatic infection? Because it was not effective in that protection, only 31 to 50% after six weeks, not enough to be approved for clinical criteria.
And, by the way, why would an EUA for children be granted in April 2022, when there is no public health emergency among children?
And even if it were true that the vaccines prevent the spread of the infection–which it does not, by all the world’s data, what kind of society uses its children as human shields for adults? I am a father. My role is to shield my children, they are not to be used as shields for me.
Beyond the death and destruction, we have set up a public health disaster in our younger generation:
• During the lockdown more than half of college-aged kids had an unwanted weight gain that averaged 28 pounds–an obesity epidemic.
• We have taught our very young children that they are a disease vector–they are a danger to others, and everyone is a danger to them.
Mackay said, “of all the offspring of time, error is the most ancient, and is so old and familiar an acquaintance that truth, when discovered, comes upon most of us like an intruder and meets the intruder’s welcome.”
What was the credentialed class’s response to truth–especially on our university campuses, the centers for the free exchange of ideas?
Censorship, intimidation, and censure.
And let’s understand clearly, when you censor science and health policy, it’s not simply an abstract evil, limiting discussion, a less-than-ideal environment for diversity of views and creative thought. People die–and people died from the censorship of correct science policy.
Because of this censorship, the concept of “The Science” has been seriously damaged. Even the best journals in the world, New England Journal of Medicine, Lancet, Science and Nature, have become contaminated by politics and have published false declarations of consensus in attempting to suffocate debate and intimidate dissenters. That adds to the public’s confusion, and it severely diminishes trust in experts and in scientific data itself.
I remain surprised at the acceptance by the American people of draconian rules, restrictions, and mandates that are unprecedented–especially because many are arbitrary, destructive, and wholly unscientific.
To conclude, as a health policy scholar for over 15 years and as a professor at top universities for 30 years, I remain shocked and concerned.
First, I have been shocked at the enormous power of the government, to unilaterally decree, as if by edict, the closure of businesses, churches, and schools; to restrict personal movement; to mandate behavior; and to eliminate our most basic freedoms, without any end in sight and with little to no accountability. And second, I remain surprised at the acceptance by the American people of draconian rules, restrictions, and mandates that are unprecedented–especially because many are arbitrary, destructive, and wholly unscientific.
And in the wake of the recent elections, I am even more concerned. Yes, domestic migration indicated a flight toward freedom, to states like Texas and Florida and away from California, Illinois, and New York. But of the 11 worst states in pandemic management, 10 of which had the most stringent lockdowns, including DC, 7 of the 8 governors running for re-election were re-elected. Voters certainly did not prioritize liberty.
All legitimate leaders should be openly reexamining policies that severely harmed America’s most vulnerable–children and the poor, while failing to save the elderly, the group known to be high-risk from the beginning. Instead, many encourage us simply to forget about the heinous, unconscionable decisions that closed schools and implemented reckless lockdowns that killed millions and destroyed countless lives and businesses.
This must not be allowed.
Not if we are an ethical society. After all they have been through, the public needs to know the truth.
And not if we are to succeed in the next pandemic, the next inevitable crisis to come.
If our democracy, with its defining freedoms, is to survive, it is clear that first and foremost, we need good people, individuals with integrity, and there are many, to rise up
And not if we want to restore trust–that requires, to start, a demand for an admission of failure, a public apology by lockdown advocates. And that public admission must be demanded to add accountability to those in power, so they never impose these reckless, destructive policies again.
What can we as Americans do now?
If our democracy, with its defining freedoms, is to survive, it is clear that first and foremost, we need good people, individuals with integrity, and there are many, to rise up–meaning speak up, as we are allowed to, as we are expected to do in free societies–or our democracy has no chance.
We might remember that my call for ordinary citizens to speak up on their own behalf back in fall of 2020 was censored by Twitter and served as an excuse for outrage by my colleagues at my own university…
In response, one can cite this quote: “No fundamental social change occurs merely because government acts. It’s because civil society, the conscience of a country, begins to rise up and demand–demand–demand change.” These are words spoken by our current president, Joe Biden.
And finally, my message to young people on campuses, where I speak all over the country, who usually ask “what can we do?”
It’s very difficult, there are many things to do that are small and yet important, but there’s one thing you must never forget, what CK Chesterton said:
“Right is right, even if nobody does it. Wrong is wrong, even if everybody is wrong about it.”