Atlas, Mugged

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Stanford’s campaign against Dr. Scott Atlas for the sins of working for former president Donald Trump and advocating for balancing the costs and benefits of COVID-19-mitigation measures has taken a new and ugly turn. In September, 105 Stanford medical and health-policy faculty members published an open letter accusing Atlas, their former Stanford medical-school colleague and then White House coronavirus-task-force member, of deliberate misrepresentations of the “established science” surrounding COVID-19 that “will lead to immense avoidable harm.” The letter writers did not cite any publications or statements by Atlas to support their claims. Now two of the letter writers, joined by psychiatrist David Spiegel, a third Stanford colleague who did not sign the original letter, have doubled down. In an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, they repeat the allegations and suggest that miscreants such as Atlas should be censured by professional medical societies, medical-licensing boards, and universities where they are faculty members. This vendetta has to stop.

Like the earlier letter, the JAMA article provides little evidence of Atlas’s alleged misrepresentations. Indeed, the sole source cited is a New York Times article that misstates Atlas’s positions. Moreover, some of Atlas’s alleged misstatements of science are not misstatements at all. None of this stops the three JAMA authors from insinuating that Atlas is comparable to physicians who promoted eugenics, conducted the racist Tuskegee syphilis experiments, and fraudulently linked vaccines to autism.

The JAMA authors and the Times article they cite claim Atlas questioned the efficacy of mask wearing and social distancing. But that article inaccurately cited an interview with Tucker Carlson of Fox News in which Atlas said people need not wear masks when they are alone but should wear masks if they can’t socially distance around others. Similarly, the Times article cited a different Times piece to claim, as the JAMA authors do, that Atlas pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to change its guidance so that exposed, asymptomatic people would not be tested. But the second article acknowledged “conflicting reports on who was responsible” for the policy change and never suggested it was exclusively Atlas. It reported that Dr. Brett Giroir, the coronavirus-testing director, stated the new guidance was made with input from the CDC director and approved by all the task-force doctors.

The JAMA authors’ remaining three accusations echo claims made elsewhere that Atlas advocated exposing young people to the virus in order to promote herd immunity. Atlas vehemently denied proposing this and the JAMA authors provide no evidence that he did. Atlas did write and testify that isolating the entire population is unnecessary since most people — especially the young — have little risk of severe disease or death from COVID-19, and that we should focus on protecting the most vulnerable (the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions). Most infected people will recover and become immune. This would, along with vaccinations, lead to herd immunity. That is different from proposing that the young be deliberately exposed and infected.

The JAMA authors claim Atlas erred in maintaining “that young people are not harmed by the virus and cannot spread the disease.” What Atlas actually said in an interview pushing to reopen schools was that people under 18 have “little risk” of serious illness and “essentially no risk of dying” and that children “almost never transmit the disease.” The evidence shows that Atlas has the better of the argument.

As of February 3, there were only 735 COVID-19 deaths nationwide in people 24 and younger, less than 0.2 percent of total COVID-19 deaths, and most of these deaths (601) were in the older, 15–24 age group. The American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that “the preponderance of evidence indicates that children and adolescents are less likely to be symptomatic and less likely to have severe disease resulting from SARS-CoV-2 infection” and that “children may be less likely to become infected and to spread infection.” A review by the editors of Clinical Infectious Diseases wrote that COVID-19 is a “milder disease in children” and that children “are not generally thought to play a major role in community spread.” A CDC review found little evidence of community transmission during in-person schooling, outside of indoor-sports practices and competitions. Sweden, which kept its schools open throughout the pandemic, had an extremely low incidence of severe COVID-19 disease and no deaths in nearly 2 million schoolchildren (ages 1–16) and no increase in age-adjusted risk of severe COVID-19 illness for teachers.

Read the full article at National Review.