'Science denialist': Vaccine scientists who question COVID policy compared to Big Tobacco

British Medical Journal article retracts misleading claims about financial ties of Great Barrington Declaration "focused protection" trio to free-market philanthropist Charles Koch.

Updated: October 19, 2021 - 11:11pm

Harvard Medical School's Martin Kulldorff, a frequent victim of social media censorship, is on the warpath against the British Medical Journal (BMJ) for publishing what he calls an error-riddled attempt to discredit those who advocate risk-based protection against COVID-19.

Kulldorff co-wrote the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) a year ago with Stanford Med's Jay Bhattacharya and Oxford's Suneptra Gupta, arguing that lockdown policies harm low-risk groups for COVID without helping high-risk groups, who should receive "focused protection." 

It has been signed by nearly 60,000 medical practitioners and medical and public health scientists, and another 800,000 concerned citizens.

BMJ published a letter last month that labeled the trio "merchants of doubt" who follow the playbook of big-money "science denialist campaigns" by the tobacco industry and climate-change skeptics.

Two weeks later the journal removed the letter's main claims: that the trio's work was funded and sponsored by the free-market American Institute for Economic Research, and that AIER was "part of a network of organizations" funded by free-market philanthropist Charles Koch.

"How did such a blunder end up in print in the first place?" Kulldorff wrote in The Spectator last week. AIER offered its property in Great Barrington, Mass. for a video the trio wanted to record and "for media interviews," but the GBD was not planned ahead of time, he said. 

AIER received a single $68,000 donation from Koch, while several universities including Duke have received "million dollar gifts," making BMJ "arguably more closely connected" to Koch than AIER, Kulldorff wrote. (One of the letter authors is Duke global health professor Gavin Yamey.)

The source of the discredited 2.2 million death projection for COVID in the U.S. — Neil Ferguson and his Imperial College research team — also received a cash prize for "good policy thinking" from a Koch-affiliated free market center.

Even BMJ's revised claim that President Trump's COVID policy advisor Scott Atlas is a "contributor" to AIER is false, according to Kulldorff.

The letter falsely tagged the trio opponents of "mass vaccination" when Gupta and Kulldorff have "spent decades on vaccine research." By portraying the questioning of orthodoxy as "anti-science," he said, the letter authors attack the foundation of science: "rational disagreement."

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