Sunday, November 22, 2020

Stanford Condemns Atlas

On Friday Nov. 20, as reported in the official Stanford News, the Stanford Faculty Senate formally condemned Scott Atlas, Hoover Senior Fellow and a special adviser to the reviled President Trump.  The full resolution is posted here (but only available with a Stanford id).

"Rise up"

The resolution lists a single documented fact.

in a post to his Twitter account,  Atlas called on the people of Michigan  to ‘rise up’  against their Governor in response to new public health measures...

They acknowledge his later correction 

Although he subsequently claimed that his call to rise up had  been misunderstood, we believe that this latest communication is a dangerous provocation

The President of the University himself piled on, 

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said he was “deeply troubled by the views by Dr. Atlas, including his call to ‘rise up’ in Michigan.” Tessier-Lavigne noted that Atlas later clarified his statements, but he said that the tweet “was widely interpreted as an undermining of local health authorities, and even a call to violence.”

Now, indeed this was a dumb tweet, and I do not defend it. My view of scientific advisers is that they should advise and serve the President and shut up. Most presidents want them to do that, and not become an independent part of political messaging. But this administration is, er, different, and President Trump has not objected to Scott's tweeting habits. None of us know even if tweeting is expected or not in Scott's job. 

I do not here defend any of Scott's opinions, merely his freedom to state them, advise the President as he sees fit, and not be the first person formally condemned by the university for that speech. 

But let us be clear: It may have been dumb, but Atlas did not call for violence. Period. You can call it "interpreted," you can call it "dog whistle," you can put all the words into Scott's mouth you want, but those words are not there. Condemnation for speech is bad enough, condemnation because someone might misinterpret speech is unimaginable. 

You can also interpret it as I did, a call for people whose livelihoods and health are being imperiled by nitwit proclamations to exercise their rights and duties as citizens of this great country to, well, rise up, to protest to their elected officials, to complain in regular and social media, peaceably to assemble (with masks) and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. 

So, is a tweet calling for the people of Michigan to 'rise up' against a set of widely panned, economically devastating, ineffectual public health measures, at least in Scott's view (more later), an act meriting this unprecedented and unique condemnation? 

Unprecedented and unique.  As far as I can tell, the faculty senate of Stanford has never "condemned" any statement by any faculty or staff member (like me, Atlas is not faculty) in its entire history. (Corrections welcome -- my institutional memory and googling skills are not perfect. If you know of precedent, comment. Update: see the comment for the precedent.)

Meanwhile, adorning Stanford's Green Library, right across the street from the Provost and President's offices, is a 100 foot tall banner proclaiming "No Justice, No Peace." It has been there for months. (Note: the "No" is in a different color so it stands out. It's hard to see in my picture, but much clearer in person.) 

I too am outraged by George Floyd's murder. A bit of "rising up" for peaceful protest seems like a worthy reaction and invocation. A bit of "undermining local authorities," especially ones with guns in their hands and a Black man in the sights seems worth doing. But "No Peace" leaves very little to the imagination - what can "No Peace" mean but an explicit threat of violence? And what can a 100 foot tall banner draped over the main university library mean, but that this is an official pronouncement of the University -- not just a tweet on a private twitter account by a researcher on leave from Stanford in public service? Yes, the banner has multiple meanings, but on the President's standard for Scott, it is very easy to interpret this banner as official institutional support for a particular very political movement. 

Our country was founded on "rising up." The Bostonians who flung tea into the harbor were precisely trying to undermine local authority. The courageous protesters of the civil rights era rose up, and undermined local authority. No Scott's tweet does not rise to this holy status -- but that's the point. The condemnation did not qualify, it did not state that some rise up, undermine is ok and some is not, and Scott's was the later. It states as a matter of principle that a tweet, and thus any tweet, with language such as "rise up" and "undermining local authorities" is per se beyond the pale, is speech worthy of the first-ever official condemnation of a member of our community. 

It does not qualify because we all know (I hope -- I wonder how much we all agree on more and more these days) that a disagreement about speech concerning public policy -- how to add science, economics, politics and law -- should not be subject of a university condemnation. So the accusers must try to make it a matter of principle. But since the principles are, when examined, ludicrous, the hypocrisy is plain. No, you do not care about "rise up" and "undermining authority." You just disagree with Scott, but you're not willing to state facts of the case. 

Science and credentialism

So what are the facts? Perhaps Scott's public policy opinions are also beyond the pale and worthy of a formal condemnation? But the motion and discussion mentions no facts. They adopt the mantle of "science" and naked credentialism: 
"Many of his opinions and statements [none are documented] run counter to established science"
“What Atlas has done is an embarrassment to the university,” [Professor of Medicine David] Spiegel said. “He is using his real affiliation with Hoover to provide credibility in issues he has no professional expertise to discuss in a professional way.”
That Stanford, overflowing with interdisciplinary public policy advocacy centers and institutes,  would condemn a statement made by one of us because he doesn't have the right "professional expertise" is preposterous. Should we condemn George Shultz, Secretary of State who set in motion the end of the Cold War, because his Ph.D. was in economics not political science?  Yes, Scott's medical degree is Neuroradiology, not Epidemiology. But may only people with degrees in Epidemiology speak? Me, and the dozens of economists writing papers on the spread of Covid-19 better watch out; Doug Bernheim, Chair of the Economics Department, who recently wrote with coauthors a nice paper documenting the spread of Covid-19 at Trump rallies had better watch out; (or would he only have to watch out if the paper had mentioned protests, on which it was silent?) Paul Romer, Economics (not medicine) Nobel Prize winner, who has been on a worthy campaign to spread the news that rapid testing could stop the pandemic had better watch out. None of us have any medical degrees at all! Must we be silent, or face university condemnation?

Actually, lead inquisitor David Spiegel,  is a professor of Psychiatry, and his webpage lists no work in public health, epidemiology, viral diseases, economics, political science or any other credential to think about these issues, where Scott has been doing nothing but health policy research for 20 years, producing 5 books in the process and more articles than I can count.  Who is missing credentials? And since when does Stanford decide the merit of an argument based on credentials rather than logic and fact, and condemn people for speaking outside their credentialed silo? 

I disagree with Scott too, on a lot of things. I had a long exchange with him recently in which I advocated lots of rapid testing. Scott disagrees, and has non-trivial arguments. 

But let's state the obvious: within the mantle of what "science" actually knows about the pandemic, there is room for a lot of disagreement. The sainted Dr. Fauci said masks did no good only a few months ago. The signers of the Great Barrington Declaration agree Scott on a lot of things, disagree with the signers of this petition, and include lots of credentials. Scott was canceled by YouTube for opposing economic lockdowns while the WHO wanted lockdowns, but then the WHO changed its mind. Is Sweden anti-scientific? The science is foggy, and science does not translate directly to public policy. 

Let's state some more obvious. Public policy does not just consist of settled "science." Tacking a pandemic requires input from science, but also input from economics, which the scientists know nothing about, to think about the costs of economic shutdowns, and behavioral responses. It needs input from political scientists and lawyers who understand the limited powers of the government even in a pandemic. And it needs a lot of input from businesspeople and regular folks, who can explain how pandemic measures work out in practice. Public policy needs politicians.

(Scott, for example, disagreed with my view on testing because he thought people who passed imperfect tests would do more dangerous things. I don't think so, but there is no science on this question. Masks may work in lab settings, but giving people masks doesn't mean they wear them right, or do not take more risks with masks on. There is no science on this question.) 

Has any of you invoking holy "science" actually read what Governor Whitmer is doing? Is it possible that Scott has a point? Are you willing to defend every point of the Governor's plan as scientifically valid? For example, covering a lawsuit against the governor, 
Indoor gatherings at private residences are limited to no more than two households and no more than 10 people. Michiganders can go to a museum but not a movie theater or ice skating rink. The list of arbitrary restrictions goes on, 
So, you're sure that there is a bulletproof randomized clinical trial that says 10 people safe, 11 not, museum safe, ice rink not? 


The list of charges is not limited to a tweet. Mostly imported from a previous  open letter, the full list of charges is this:  
He has misrepresented scientific knowledge and opinion regarding the management of pandemics
He has actively discouraged the use of masks and other scientifically accepted protective health measures against Covid
Atlas’s words have endangered our citizens and now public officials 
His pronouncements are also damaging Stanford’s reputation and academic standing
Atlas’s disdain for established medical knowledge violates medical ethics defined by the American Medical Association
Atlas’s behavior is anathema to our community, our values, and our belief that we should use knowledge for good. 
The motion contains not one piece of documentation for any of this. Dear scholars, even Wikipedia does a better job of footnoting its attacks.  There was room; the next item on the agenda had 12 pages of background. This is how "science" argues? 

I hope for the sake of the faculty Senate that a full and careful documentation was produced at the meeting, discussed, and will be in the written record, because otherwise Scott's multimillion dollar defamation suit will slide through court in a jiffy. 

Defamation? Indeed. The "condemnation" is deliberately public, spread in the Stanford report, sent by email to, well, me, and instantly picked up by media. Its only effect is to publicly besmirch Atlas. 

Just who is "damaging Stanford's reputation and academic standing?" This action tops any forgettable Altas tweet by miles. 

Scott has "Disdain for established medical knowledge?" I would love to see any attempt to document that. Scott does not "believe that we should use knowledge for good?" Please. And good luck with that defamation suit. 

What's this about? 

I think it's perfectly obvious what this is about. And, if they disagree, and are going to get on high horses about statements that might be misinterpreted, they might think about the glaring possibility to misinterpret this one. Scott worked for Trump. In an institution that voted 94.7% for Biden and 3.5% for Trump - and that includes Hoover and the Business School -- this truly is anathema. 

What's this about? "Values." Atlas "violates the  core values of  our faculty." Atlas' "actions as objectionable on the  basis of the university’s core value."

In discussion, 

Debra Satz, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, said she believes the resolution has reminded the university of the importance of leading with its values.

"This brings the value issues front and center. We have been pretty good at pointing to the value of freedom of speech and freedom of inquiry, which I believe are central. But there are other values at stake. As a university, we have a commitment to push back against the undermining of – and pursuit of – knowledge. That is one of the great threats to our democracy at the moment.”

So there are other "values" that trump freedom of speech and inquiry. Somehow the foaming at the mouth about "threats to democracy" extend to a tweet encouraging citizens to protest nitwit regulations. Hmm just how might that be "misinterpreted" as political? 

This is the Trump Accountability Project to cancel from civil society anyone who worked for the hated Trump. Or, at least one could certainly infer that with great reason.

Atlas was not present to defend himself, and the coverage does not mention anyone appointed devil's advocate at this inquisition. The one small dissenting voice comes from John Etchemendy, former provost
Among those [I hope there are others!] expressing concern about the resolution’s effect on freedom of speech and academic freedom was John Etchemendy, ...
"I am troubled by the idea that a person who has those rights to speak and to assert certain things – however outrageous – have fewer rights to speak, given that they are Stanford faculty. I find that to be contrary to what is, I think, the highest value of the university, which is the value and promotion of free speech and open dialogue.”
I think he's almost on to something. What is the point of all this? There can only be one: Don't work for Republicans, don't advise them, don't deviate from the campus orthodoxy on policy issues, censor yourself from speaking unpopular opinions. And expect to be isolated, publicly shamed with vague and undocumented charges, and drummed out of the university if you do. 

I emphasize here (response to some commentary) that my own policy judgements, informed by my reading of science and economics, disagree in many ways with Scott's. Free speech cases are always difficult, and the content of the free speech is never perfectly acceptable to everyone. But damn if he doesn't have the right to render his judgments on these issues, differing from mine and the faculty senates', without official condemnation. 


I forgot to mention -- the case is particularly puzzling given that our provost responded to the previous open letter, which this motion mirrors, by sending an email to all faculty, explaining that the open letter is a mis-use of university resources for political purposes. Just how is the same letter, now a motion passed by the faculty senate not a use of university resources for political purposes? 

Scott Responds. Soberly and much more concisely. I don't think I could have kept my temper as well. 

Many commenters respond, well Stanford faculty have a right to free speech and Stanford as an institution does too. Indeed it does. The first amendment only covers government censorship. This is not a legal question. This is a question of, as one puts it "brand management." While a university is free to politically censor its faculty (well, almost -- receiving federal funds limits political litmus tests) the question is whether it is wise to do so. Is the function of a university to foster open inquiry and debate, or to enforce one particular ideological brand? I would rather Stanford made the choice for the former.  


  1. This was an indictment looking for a crime. The Stanford FS has had Atlas in it's crosshairs waiting for the predicate to launch the condemnation. I suspect you are also in their sights JC.

  2. Largely agree with the sentiment here. But not that after (rightfully) accusing Stanford of condemning Atlas based on their interpretation of his tweet, you go on to interpret/misquote the “Know Justice, Know Peace” banner as reading “No Justice, No Peace.”

    1. Look hard at the picture. The "no" is highlighted in a different color so it reads multiple ways. That's clearer in person.

    2. It is typical of advertising industry practices. At one time it was referred to as 'subliminal messaging'. Today, it would be labelled as denoting 'virtue signalling'. Aldous Huxley would have appreciated the irony implicit in the hoisting of that banner on an edifice of the university, and the unintended statement that the banner's presence there makes. Call it for what it is, "double-speak."

    3. Ecclesiastes ("The Preacher") makes mention of this. There is nothing new under sun--what is new is of olden times, he states. And here we see tangible proof of the veracity of his time honoured thesis.

      If one were to be pressed to cite a parallel in literature, Huxley's "Animal Farm" would come closest to the mark. The irony of this situation and Huxley's foresight ('perfect', a.s.) is not lost on those of us who were exposed to Huxley's writings in our university days, way back when universities were truly liberal institutions of higher learning, unhindered by considerations of 'political correctness' or fear of coercive and damaging social protests or private donor revolts. It is truly unfortunate that institutions of higher learning have become more totalist in their views of speech and freedom of expression. Society will be the poorer for it.

    4. Thank you for pointing out the subtle difference. I suspect that if you were to call this a "dog whistle" for riots, you would be excoriated by the local "tolerant" peace loving people of Stanford University.

  3. Could you clarify:

    What are the consequences of the resolution? Do they entail any actual sanctions of Stanford for Dr. Atlas?

    Or could the censure motion be interpreted as speech by an institution?

    1. This is, indeed, "speech by an institution"--which, of course, is "speech" only in a metaphorical sense. It is unwise, unfortunate speech, making the university a political entity; but it does not, in itself, entail any actual sanctions against Atlas. It is just "gassing."

  4. Thanks for writing this. The news makes me very sad about the state of free speech.

  5. I thought science was supposed to be an environment of robust and vigorous debate, not a top down consensus exercise where one person or small group makes declarative statements and everyone else just acquiesces. A sad state of affairs for Stanford and the United States.

  6. "I too am outraged by George Floyd's murder." George Floyd had a severe heart condition and had taken potentially lethal quantities of drugs. The police were trying to restrain, not kill, him. To avoid slandering the police and prejudging the case, you should write about Floyd's "death" rather than "murder".

    1. I watched the whole video and chose my words carefully. It's a moral judgement not a legal one. We do not need to fight about it, and in this context perhaps best to bend a little to acknowledge the moral and political judgements on the other side -- and that they are moral and political judgments, not matters of "science" that should be adjudicated by university bodies and speech censored.

  7. Agree with just about everything here. However, I think context might matter here quite a bit--it was just last month that the FBI foiled a plot by people affiliated with a local militia to kidnap Governor Whitmer. Against a political backdrop like this, it's not too surprising to me that tweets from influential individuals like Atlas calling for local citizens to "rise up" against that same state government draw an inordinate amount of scrutiny. Everyone's running a little hot right now.

    1. The FBI thing was the usual entrapment set-up where government snitches arrange the "crimes" convenient to the permanent regime.

  8. There is an odd phenomenon at play here, Mr. Cochrane. Given that you too have prepared and graded exams in your life, I am sure you have also noticed how students generally have trouble transposing knowledge acquired in a formal setting to an informal setting. They will derive the asymptotic properties of the OLS estimator if ask them to move from assumptions to conclusions, but invoking proper concepts on the spot when discussing policy and evidence proves a lot trickier for most of them.

    The same thing seems to be happening here. Science is not a body of knowledge, but a method for discriminating between hypothesis. By design, all ideas are treated with the exact same degree of seriousness here: it's all about drawing restrictions and seeking to test them out. Why on Earth would a Stanford professor with an extensive career in scientific analysis support censorship? We already have a good filter for stupidity -- the scientific method.

    Some of them have PhD's from Harvard, MIT, Princeton... and they can't seem to figure out a way to see how what they do in a laboratory 5 or 6 days per week can be meaningfully applied elsewhere. And it goes further with moral and political statements: they probably all can understand how to optimize in multiple dimensions, but they don't seem to appreciate how disagreements about priorities and goals are isomorphic to a change in the objective function.

    They are very smart and educated, but I strongly suspect most of them can't or only poorly use it outside of the narrow environment where they learned to use it.

  9. John, I agree with your point that Dr A has the right to say what he said. But I would not call the tweet "dumb". I think (again) there is an interesting take offered here. Perhaps "rise up" could be compared with fine people on both sides. Maybe Dr A didn't know armed men were "protesting" against earlier restrictions, maybe he didn't know that there was a plot to kidnap and (??) Michigan's Gov. But let's not call Dr A's tweet just "dumb". Let's not trivialize the issue. I agree with, he and I and you have the right to say whatever, but it doesn't mean that we should exercise that right in clearly irresponsible ways. I'd add that public officials should be held to a higher standard, even thought they do have the right to say dumb things like there are fine NeoNazis out there "protesting" and demanding their "freedom" to intimidate others. (Not sure intimidation is a crime. I chose my words carefully).

  10. Simply bravo! And thank you.

    Uncommon Knowledge is the only place I have seen/heard that has broadcast the well-known, measurable and frankly more scientifically sound deleterious effects that lockdowns have on all individuals and society as a whole.

  11. The condemnation is part of a mass hysteria. Let us remember that actions and statements against individuals during the McCarthy era, another mass hysteria, were completely voluntary.

  12. In free speech, there are no "sides." Simply a willingness to allow each "side" to be able to make or leave comments on Covid-19, anyone's response to it, or the man in the Moon. Should the speech or comment so horribly offend you, tune it out, write a counter argument. But it is overkill to enjoin the entire executive and judicial apparatus of the "greatest" nexus of learning on earth to crush a man for a tweet rendered outside of school concerning his view about the encroachment of overweening government. If I am to bring my daughter to Stanford to view the campus and assess the programs and sports available, are we to sport muzzles because we hail from the Live Free or Die state of New Hampshire and that our views might follow lines farther right than you publicly avow at Stanford? Or will you tell us at our scheduled interview that we would be better served at Hillsdale College and our money would be better spent there?

  13. In fact, Stanford has done this before, and worse. In 1972, tenured professor Bruce Franklin was not only condemned, but fired, raising questions at the time of academic freedom and freedom of speech.

  14. This action just goes to demonstrate how insular, elitist and vindictive higher ed faculty and administrators have become. Don't these people have any self awareness?

  15. Well, sure, of course there is free speech. But, there is also the freedom to respond to it as well, as long as the response doesn't run afoul legally. Stanford made their choice(s) based on their own set of preferences, which the upper echelons are free to do. Perception is reality sometimes, unfortunately. This is really all about brand management.

  16. Minor point: "I too am outraged by George Floyd's murder."

    It has not yet been determined by a court of law whether what happened to George Floyd, which was certainly dispiriting and lamentable, was a murder.

    I agree with the thrust of this excellent blog post that all members of academia (or other professions), whether left-wing or right-wing or whatever their political affiliations, should have the right to speak freely without fear of repercussions.

    The academics of Stanford are not covering themselves in glory, despite acsending to the very pinnacles of self-righteousness.

  17. Perhaps the faculty at Sanford need to take a ride down the I-5 to Pasadena and read a bit about a scientist who knew a thing or two about how to actually do science – not “settled/established science”, whatever that means. Richard Feynman called science a philosophy of ignorance and that judgment in science is the skill to “pass on the accumulated wisdom, plus the wisdom that it might not be wisdom… to teach both to accept and reject the past with a kind of balance that takes considerable skill. Science alone of all the subjects contains within itself the lesson of the danger of belief in the infallibility of the greatest teachers of the preceding generation.”

    There is a lot of room for legitimate good faith disagreement around COVID-19 and what policies to implement. Believing that we have settled science and settled policy actions on this pandemic is exactly how we will make things a lot worse.

  18. When we defer to 'experts', we grant them power over us. How often has an expert been wrong, rather than right? Well, ask yourself, "how did the novel coronavirus enter nursing homes when the pandemic was first recognized in North America and Europe?" It entered nursing homes because 'experts' in hospital administration decided to discharge hospital patients to nursing home facilities in order to open up beds for the expected surge of novel coronavirus cases from the anticipated arrival of the pandemic. The 'experts' got it terribly wrong. But they had the weight of the law behind them, and it didn't matter if the virus entered the nursing homes, as long as the hospitals were prepared for the onslaught of the pandemic.

    Is 'expert' opinion worth the candle? Maybe, but not in every instance or every utterance. Evaluate what the 'experts' are telling you that you 'must do'. If it sounds like nonsense, it probably is. If he tells you that you have to do it for good and sound reasons, ask him to set forth the good and sound reasons, and make your own assessment of those before you act on his recommendations. Above all else, ask yourself, "Cui bono?"--who benefits? If you can't convince yourself of the soundness of the 'experts' advice, ask another 'expert', or use your own common sense if you can't find another 'expert' to ask.

    Don't take it at face value that the 'expert' knows what is best for you, simply because he or she is an 'expert', or a 'scientist'. You know what is best for you; the 'expert' is motivated by other objects, not by your personal welfare.

  19. The comparison between George Schultz and Atlas is ludicrous. Comparing someone who lacks expertise in a highly technical scientific field to a practical and experienced practitioner of global power politics who has an economics degree is beyond obviously misplaced. Almost no actually qualified scientist agrees with Atlas. That was not the case with political scientists views of Schultz's various international maneuvers.

    1. That's my point. So Stanford's faculty senate should not condemn Atlas citing a principle that would also apply to Shultz.

    2. To Axel: There are tons of scientists and doctors agree with Atlas. Of course you can conveniently label them as disqualified.

  20. It is said that 'freedom of expression' and 'free speech' are not absolute rights, but rights that must be curtailed to protect us from ourselves. Next we are told that speech that offends our sensibilities must be restricted and censored. Then we are told that we must not go against the 'party line' because it would be 'upsetting' for some persons to hear criticism of the party line. Finally, we are told that we must enter into a period of self-criticism and re-education, for the betterment of our person and the protection of society at large. But that is not the last stage on our journey, for there is the ultimate step of removal entirely from society and the re-writing of history to expunge the record of 'speech' that is offensive. There is nothing new in this; we've seen this before down through the centuries. It is a time-worn path. It is how societies die; but unlike the phoenix they are never rise again from the ashes. Our liberties and freedoms are taken from us bit by bit, until we notice what we have lost. And it is language that is the first to be taken from us. Speech is lost, bit by bit, in the ways that we are seeing today. And we let it happen, bit by bit.

  21. I just finished reading a really interesting and well written book. "Hot Hand" by Ben Cohen. It was well written and very entertaining. The subject of the book is the controversy over whether or not there is such a thing as a hot hand in basketball. In 1985, Gilovich, Vallone and Tversky published “The hot hand in basketball: On the misperception of random sequences”, which argued that the "hot hand" is a cognitive illusion, our minds impose a pattern on random events. That idea became "established science". But, like real scientists, other social scientists and mathematicians did not accept it and move on. They picked at the idea, and eventually proved that the paper had deep seated flaws.

    The point here is that the core of science is doubt. Nothing is science can be accepted as "established". Everything must be doubted and and picked at.

    This is true in every part of science. Let us take an example from a core subject of physical science: gravity. Newton's Principia explained gravity in 1687. It was the beginning of the separation between empirical science and speculative philosophy. Surely, gravity is established science.

    Well, not really. Newton's theory was revised and expanded for two centuries after it was propounded. But, eventually there were problems. In the 19th Century, they found that the orbit of Mercury around the sun could not be explained by Newtonian theories, unless there was another large planet nearby, which nobody could see.

    Albert Einstein published his General theory of Relativity in 1915. The theory refined Newton's law of universal gravitation, and provided a unified description of gravity as a non-Euclidian geometric property of four-dimensional space-time. It could explain the orbit of Mercury. But, it also opened up a whole new vista of astronomical phenomena that are uncanny, at best, such as the bending of light by gravity, the dilation of time by gravity, the collapse of stars into their own gravitational fields that produce Black Holes, and even stranger yet gravitational waves, that were first directly observed only recently.

    Game over, we have the answer. Gravity is now established science. Right? Not exactly. There are known and real problems with General Relativity as an explanation for life, the universe, and everything. For instance, the Black Hole Information Loss Paradox. I won't try to explain it. If you want a good understandable explanation go to "The Black Hole information loss problem is unsolved. Because it’s unsolvable." has an explanation and a video. It is by a German theoretical physicist named Sabine Hossenfelder. She has a lot of videos and explanations about basic issues in modern physics.

    The point here is very simple. There is no such thing as "established science", nor can there ever be such a thing. The core of science is doubt. As the Royal Society, to which Newton reported his results, has it: Nullius in Verba. "Take nobody's word for it". The only way to prove statements about science is an appeal to facts determined by experiment.

    Calling anything about epidemiology "established science", is just plain hogwash. Condemning anyone for failure to treat anything about epidemiology as anything other than provisional and conjectural is the opposite of science. It is a demand for allegiance to blind faith.

    Stanford should be ashamed of itself. It has defecated in its own bed. It ought to be punished. And severely. I hope that Dr. Atlas will bring a libel suit against Stanford and that a jury will award him a very substantial sum of money as punitive damages.

  22. As you say, Stanford's actions in this matter are really just an exercise in brand management, and a very poor job they've made of it too. Still, not as bad a job as the Australian Rugby Union which last year managed to sack its star player for the unpardonable sin of quoting scripture in a way that offended a few people:

  23. It is time to follow Henry Thoreau's Civil Disobedience. Our public policy regarding Covid is absolutely terrible. It doesn't follow data, probability theory, or science. It's limiting our freedom, and crushing people's lives. Atlas might be the wrong person to tweet that sentiment, but rising up and civil disobedience is the way to take on our unelected bureaucratic class, and governors/mayors who rule on feeling and not science.

  24. If it is true that Atlas has promulgated dangerous misinformation, as a representative of the Hoover Institution, then I think Stanford's rebuke of him is inexcusably mild.

  25. Ideally, some free market economists would be available to help break the monopoly on higher ed education, credentialing, and research.

    This post claims that Stanford isn't prohibited from discriminating on political views or asserting controversial political ideology like a government entity would be, yet Stanford receives lavish government funding, tax breaks, and government authority over adult skill credentialing. Even a moderate would call for free market reforms here.

  26. I'm sorry, but this blog post and the comments that follow are missing the bigger picture. It's all well and good to engage in a highly intellectual discussion about the importance of free speech, but Dr Atlas was not just some academic at the Hoover arguing the pros and cons of health policy. Quite the opposite; he was, for a while, the most prominent medical adviser to the President, and his "free speech" gave oxygen to Mr. Trump's systematic denial of the best available scientific advice regarding COVID mitigation.

    I'm not a lawyer, I'm just an ICU doc who is witnessing first-hand the greatest public health disaster of my lifetime. Perhaps Dr Atlas's behavior is technically legal; perhaps his free speech is enshrined in the first amendment just like everyone else's. However, I also know that if his "free speech" encourages behavior that results in the eventual illness of millions and death of hundreds of thousands, it is irresponsible at best and murderous at worst. What would happen if I were to tell my patients to inject vinegar to cure their COVID? There is no evidence, as Dr Atlas likes to say, that such a remedy is injurious (only good judgement). Would my suggestion be protected under "free speech?" I doubt it. Regardless, I am sure that I'd be in violation of my oath to do no harm. How is that any different from Dr Atlas's disingenuous embrace of COVID policies that fanned this epidemic from a smolder into a conflagration?

    For those of you who argue that Dr Atlas was merely following the available evidence and refusing to jump on the hysterical bandwagon of universal masking, testing, social distancing and contact tracing, I point you to the fact these United States of America have BY FAR the worst COVID situation of any developed country. More cases, higher positivity rates, more deaths. Why do you all think this is? Is there something inherent to our biology that makes us more susceptible to COVID? Of course not--we have just refused to do the same things that are being done in other countries that have demonstrably controlled this virus. Take off the blinders of American exceptionalism, people! There are templates for success all around us! And EVERY SINGLE ONE has employed these 4 basic principles at core.

    In a rapidly evolving situation such as this, it is unrealistic to insist that every public health policy be based on a randomized placebo-controlled trial. Are gatherings of 10 safe, while those of 11 deadly? Of course not! The risk curve is continuous and increases with the size of the gathering. Public health officials have the unenviable task of translating nuanced, complicated, and incomplete science into the simplest terms. The results are not perfect, but they are better than the alternative of basing recommendations on foolproof data (and thereby doing nothing at all). For Dr. Atlas to denigrate such attempts, to sow mistrust in the good-faith efforts of public health officials, to encourage folks to "rise up" against these policies, is an abrogation of his responsibility as an adviser and a doctor.

    I am all for healthy academic discourse, freedom of speech, and the latitude to have unpopular opinions within academia. Such protections are necessary for ideas to develop unhindered. But we must insist on a higher standard when soliciting policies that govern the health of 330 million during the worst global pandemic in 100 years. Dr. Atlas will forever be remembered as the man whose free speech led this country into the greatest COVID surge thus far. If that was his constitutional right, then so be it, but he has assuredly relinquished any claim to the title of doctor.

    1. This.

      I generally appreciate Professor Cochrane's posts even when I disagree, but this was a rare exception where I felt he was making an emotional argument rather than an intellectual one on behalf of a colleague. Everything is presented as though it were the latter, but even within that, the logic is inconsistent. He admits the content of the tweet is "dumb" but then argues for the right to make such a comment. But the point of the uproar is precisely the content. Whatever his intent, Dr Atlas most certainly was not arguing for socially distanced, mask-wearing peaceable assembly to protest politicians, and any suggestion otherwise is disingenuous.

      This also applies to the extended claim that the uproar is simply because Atlas is working for Trump, which is demonstrably false given that Saint Fauci also works for Trump. The problem is that Dr Atlas is giving his imprimatur -- and by extension Stanford's/Hoover's -- to the nonsense coming out of Trump. It is true that the left is all too eager to tear down anyone in Trump's orbit, but that doesn't mean they're not periodically correct.

      I don't know what his endgame is, but consider that in his reply, Dr Atlas claims he has "repeatedly" recommended mask-wearing, which is a laughable comment given his tweet that read "Masks work? No." He could, in true Trumpian fashion, play both sides and claim that he has at times recommended mask wearing but was in this case simply passing along information from others. But any sensible person understands his stance, and it is extremely dangerous, as evidenced by the outbreak *within the White House*.

      It is true that while the US is doing poorly, other developed countries have fared similarly poorly (e.g., UK, Italy, Spain, France...) It is also true that many developed -- and not-so-developed -- countries have fared infinitely better (e.g., China, Korea, New Zealand). Was there no "settled science" that the latter group followed? Were they just lucky? Dr Atlas' laissez faire approach to the virus -- one which the US has been more or less following -- is profoundly disturbing, and I'll take any wager that in the end, both the medical and economic damage will be worse in the U.S. than in an equivalent country that more seriously attempted to contain it, like Australia.

    2. Thnak you very much for this much needed dose of reality. I am not in your United States but in France. And thank God for these "so called restrictive measures", that have helped to slow down/contain the virus. I could not imagine what would have been the case, were these measures not implemented.

    3. Dear ICU doc - thank you so much for your post. I agree with it wholeheartedly. I hope all those academic protectors of free speech have lent their support to those who've reported the silencing of their speech and censored research, especially climate scientists. America has never needed experts so badly. When New Zealand televised their first attended rugby game after shut down they applauded themselves - Team New Zealand. The US response to this pandemic is a very long way from exceptional. It is a catastrophe.


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