Established in 1844, Hillsdale College a small conservative Christian-based institution, which suffered a major sex scandal in the late 1990s, is now becoming a go-to institute for COVID disinformation. Located in Hillsdale, Michigan, the College, a factory for conservative thought and Christian values, was rocked by a sex scandal in the late 1990s, when George C. Roche III, then president of Hillsdale, was accused by his son of having an affair with his wife. Roche III, called a “conservative celebrity” and ''a hero to the movement,'' by The Weekly Standard, was forced to resign in disgrace (https://www.nytimes.com/1999/11/15/us/scandal-rocks-a-conservative-campus.html).
Some twenty-+ years later, Hillsdale is embroiled in a controversy of a different sort: COVID denial, and peddling disinformation about the pandemic and its variants. To pursue these aims, the institute is establishing an Academy for Science and Freedom, that will operate out of Hillsdale’s campus in Washington, D.C. According to the Hillsdale website, the Academy aims “To educate the American people about the free exchange of scientific ideas and the proper relationship between freedom and science in the pursuit of truth.”
The three men appointed to spearhead the operation, Scott W. Atlas, M.D., of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, also known as Trump’s guy, Jay Bhattacharya, M.D., Ph.D., of Stanford University, and Martin Kulldorff, Ph.D., of the Brownstone Institute, “are connected to right-wing dark money attacking public health measures,” according to Walker Bragman and Alex Kotch, writing for The Center For Media and Democracy, in partnership with The Daily Poster (https://www.exposedbycmd.org/2021/12/22/how-the-koch-network-hijacked-the-war-on-covid/).
According to Bragman and Kotch, “The trio also has ties to the Great Barrington Declaration, a widely-rebuked yet influential missive that encouraged governments to adopt a ‘herd immunity’ policy letting Covid-19 spread largely unchecked.”
The Great Barrington Declaration, authored Bhattacharya, former Harvard Medical School professor Martin Kulldorff, and Oxford University professor Sunetra Gupta, was released on October 4, 2020. According to Bragman and Kotch, “the declaration recommended governments allow younger, healthier people to become infected with Covid-19 while reserving ‘focused protection’ for the vulnerable, in order to reach herd immunity. Suggestions included having nursing homes limit staff rotations and businesses rely on workers with “acquired immunity.”
While the document claimed academic legitimacy and contained the signatures of 2700 “Medical and Public Health Scientists,” Bragman and Kotch pointed out that it “arose out of the world of right-wing dark money and corporate interests, and many of its signatories aren’t verified.”
The two reporters noted that “The new academy appears to be the latest effort to provide intellectual cover to a nearly two-year campaign by right-wing and big business interests to force a return to normalcy to boost corporate profits amid a pandemic that is now surging once again thanks to Omicron.”
“What we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic was a silencing of scientific inquiry in favor of policies absolutely hostile to freedom,” said Hillsdale College President Larry P. Arnn in a Hillsdale Press Release. “Liberty is the common good that defines a free society. Policy and science should seek to preserve it whenever possible.” Arnn chaired Donald Trump’s highly flawed 1776 Commission, which sought to craft American history curriculums around America’s strengths.
“The pandemic exposed grave problems with the essential functioning of science, research and debate,” explained Atlas. “Instead of open and free discourse to seek the scientific truths underlying urgently needed solutions, we have seen silencing, censoring, and intimidation of those whose interpretations differed from the desired narrative. This dangerous trend interferes with our ability to address future crises and threatens the very principles of freedom and order essential to democracy.” Atlas added, “Our work in the Academy for Science and Freedom will expose these problems and explore solutions fundamental to the scientific process, principles that all free societies depend on.”
“Science depends on the freedom of scientists to challenge established dogma with arguments and data,” said Bhattacharya. “It cannot function when a small cartel of government scientists, who control a lion’s share of financial support for scientific activity even by private actors, can dictate scientific conclusions at odds with the facts as has happened during the pandemic. The work of the Academy for Science and Freedom will be to reform the funding and function of science so that scientists can be free to do science again and thereby contribute to the flourishing of a free society.”
“All three co-authors are also now affiliated with the Brownstone Institute for Social and Economic Research, an Austin, Texas-based nonprofit founded by former American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) editorial director Jeffrey Tucker in May 2021 to prevent “the recurrence of lockdowns.” Bhattacharya serves as the organization’s senior scholar, Kulldorff is a senior scientific director, and Gupta is an author.
Bragman and Kotch note that while “The Great Barrington Declaration and its natural immunity strategy were widely derided by scientists around the world.” The authors of the report were invited to Donald Trump’s White House despite the fact that their “strategy was condemned by the Infectious Diseases Society of America and its HIV Medicine Association while World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called it ‘unethical.’ Thousands of medical professionals called on governments to disregard strategies that rely on natural infection.”