Jay Bhattacharya is a Professor of Medicine at Stanford University, and one of the three co-authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, which outlines a focused protection strategy for dealing with COVID-19.
Although many academics disagree with Bhattacharya about the merits of focused protection, you’d hope they would treat him with respect when expressing their disagreement. Unfortunately, in the era of wokeness and safetyism on campus, this is too much to ask for.
Professor Bhattacharya recently became the subject of a censorious petition circulated by his own colleagues at Stanford.
Although the petition does not name him explicitly, it refers to a “Stanford faculty member” who – gasp – “defends the Governor of Florida’s rejection of mask mandates”. It then directly quotes Bhattacharya as saying “there is no high-quality evidence to support the assertion that masks stop the disease from spreading”.
Note how reasonable this supposedly controversial statement is. Bhattacharya didn’t say there is “no evidence”. He said there is “no high-quality evidence”, which strikes me as entirely defensible. Although there has been one RCT of community masking – the Bangladesh mask study – its results were inconclusive at best.
What’s more, Bhattacharya’s statement concerned the effect of children wearing masks, and there haven’t been any RCTs on that. (The Bangladesh mask study – which had not been published at the time his comments were made – only monitored adults.)
According to the petitioners, Bhattacharya “sows mistrust of policies designed to protect the public health and puts young children, their families and their teachers at risk”. Quite a charge to level at one of your own colleagues. And this wasn’t an off-hand remark in a heated conversation; it was written in a letter to the University President.
The petitioners “recognise the right of every member of the scientific community to express their views and opinions”. But “a time comes,” they write, “when skepticism can no longer be seen as anything other than willful disregard of countervailing facts”.
Perhaps the petitioners are aware of another large-scale RCT of community masking, which does show an unambiguous benefit? If so, it was not mentioned in their missive.
They go on to say: “Encouraging others to deviate from nationally-advocated policy during a pandemic jeopardises us all.” Given that the authorities initially advised against mask-wearing, this must mean the first scientists who questioned that advice were also “jeopardising us all”.
Maybe Bhattacharya’s critics can pen a belated letter denouncing those scientists who “encouraged others to deviate from” the U.S. Surgeon General’s advice in February of 2020. He urged people to “STOP BUYING MASKS” because they are “NOT effective” at preventing the general public from catching coronavirus.
The petitioners conclude their missive by asking the University President to “forcefully declare your faith in the measures you are relying upon to bring us back to campus”. And if that doesn’t sound like a religious exhortation, I don’t know what does.
Incidentally, the petition against Bhattacharya isn’t the first example of Stanford academics mobbing one of their own colleagues for questioning the received wisdom on Covid policy.
Last October, 98 faculty members signed a petition criticising Dr Scott Atlas, whom they accused of spreading “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science”. As a matter of fact, a recent study of academic cancel culture found that Stanford had experienced more incidents than any other U.S. university.
Based on this evidence, it looks like Stanford scholars need to spend more time doing teaching and research, and less time denouncing their colleagues.
This post has been updated.