A Stanford University professor of medicine says “academic freedom is dead” after his life became a “living hell” for challenging coronavirus lockdown orders and the “scientific clerisy” during the pandemic.
“The basic premise is that if you don’t have protection and academic freedom in the hard cases, when a faculty member has an idea that’s unpopular among some of the other faculty – powerful faculty, or even the administration … If they don’t protect it in that case, then you don’t have academic freedom at all,” Dr. Jay Bhattacharya told Fox News Digital in a phone interview.
Bhattacharya is a tenured professor of medicine at Stanford University and also an economist who serves as director of Stanford’s Center for Demography and Economics of Health and Aging.
He came under fire during the pandemic after co-authoring the Great Barrington Declaration, which was an open letter signed by thousands of doctors and scientists in 2020 denouncing lockdowns as harmful. Bhattacharya was joined by Harvard professor of medicine Dr. Martin Kulldorff and Oxford professor Dr. Sunetra Gupta in co-authoring the document.
Dr. Jay Bhattacharya speaks during a roundtable discussion with members of the House Freedom Caucus on the COVID-19 pandemic at The Heritage Foundation on Nov. 10, 2022. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)
The declaration was quickly denounced by other health leaders, including National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, who slammed the call for herd immunity in the document as “nonsense and very dangerous.”
Bhattacharya spoke at the Academic Freedom Conference at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business earlier this month and said that in the current era, “we have a high clerisy that declares from on high what is true and what is not true.”
“When you take a position that is at odds with the scientific clerisy, your life becomes a living hell,” he said at the conference. “You face a deeply hostile work environment.”
Bhattacharya said that soon after the Great Barrington Declaration gained widespread attention, he received death threats, hate mail and questions on where he receives funding, which he noted, “most of my money has come from the NIH for most of my life.”
“The purpose of the one-page document was aimed at telling the public that there was not a scientific consensus in favor of lockdown, that in fact many epidemiologists, many doctors, many other people – prominent people – disagreed with the consensus,” Bhattacharya said during his 10-minute talk at the conference.
And on campus, “a chill” on debate set in and he was disinvited from delivering a campus talk and an effort to organize a debate on COVID policies stalled, the College Fix reported of his remarks at the conference.
“If Stanford really truly were committed to academic freedom, they would have… worked to make sure that there were debates and discussions, seminars, where these ideas were discussed among faculty,” regardless of whether academics agreed or disagreed, he told Fox News Digital following his address at the conference.
A view of Hoover Tower and the Stanford University campus seen from Stanford Stadium. (David Madison/Getty Images)
Bhattacharya argued in his comments to Fox News that in many scientific circles during the pandemic, “power replaced the idea of truth as the guiding light.”
“So you have somebody like Tony Fauci who says unironically, that if you question me, you’re not simply questioning a man, you’re questioning science itself. That is an exercise of raw power, where he places himself effectively as the pope of science rather than a genuine desire to learn the truth.”
Coronavirus prevention face mask protection N95 masks and medical surgical masks at home. (iStock)
“They systematically tried to make it seem like everyone agreed with their ideas about COVID policy, when in fact there was deep disagreement among scientists and epidemiologists about the right strategy. That’s why we wrote the Great Barrington Declaration, to tell the public that there was this disagreement. There was another alternate policy available,” he said.
Bhattacharya charged at the conference that “academic freedom is dead” and that he was left without support from Stanford leaders.
“The policy of the university, when push comes to shove, is to permit this kind of hostile work environment,” he said. “What if there had been open scientific debate on campus, sponsored by the university on this? So that people could know there were legitimate alternate views?”
Stanford University’s Main Quadrangle and Hoover Tower on Oct. 2, 2021, in Palo Alto, California. (David Madison/Getty Images)
He argued that if the Stanford president had pushed for a debate when the Great Barrington Declaration was written, “there would have been tremendous controversy around it.”
“But at the same time the hostile work environment would have dissipated because what it would have said is, ‘Look, there’s a debate, it’s legitimate to have this debate, a place like Stanford is where this debate ought to happen.'”
Neither Stanford’s media team nor the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases immediately responded to Fox News Digital’s requests for comment on Bhattacharya’s remarks.