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Australians for Science and Freedom

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People of a certain age will remember only too well Pastor Martin Niemöller’s poignant lament that as the Nazis hunted down groups one by one, those outside the target groups kept their head down and voice quiet in order to stay out of trouble. “Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.”

In the Covid equivalent, since 2020 first they went after the lockdown critics, organizing “devastating takedowns” of “fringe epidemiologists” just as with the three authors of the Great Barrington Declaration, forging semi-fascist alliances between state and corporate power involving Big Government, Big Tech, Big Pharma, Big Media and Big Philanthropy. 

Then they went after the mask mandate resisters, othering them as selfish far right-wingers with no thought for the welfare of the collective community. Next they moved seamlessly to the vaccine-hesitant, tarring and treating them as germ-carrying walking biohazards too diseased and unclean to be fit for society. 

Justin Trudeau talked the banks and financial service providers into freezing the funds and accounts of anyone supporting the truckers’ Freedom Convoy and PayPal UK most recently demonetized Toby Young and the Free Speech Union. Stung by the immediate, powerful and growing backlash, they’ve canceled their own cancellation but that doesn’t detract from the new chilling low of attacking an organization that took no position of its own but merely defended the right of everyone to speak freely.

Australia was not immune to the galloping authoritarianism of Western democracies. Melbourne was Ground Zero for some of the most draconian restrictions on individual freedoms and civil liberties, as most routine daily activities were criminalized for people and small businesses. 

Victoria became the world leader among democracies in police excesses, as peaceful protestors (yes, you read that right) were bashed with batons, fired upon with rubber bullets, a pregnant young woman was arrested and handcuffed in the presence of her toddlers while still in pajamas for posting on Facebook about a planned peaceful protest with people asked to be masked and respect social distancing, and so on. Sydney streets were patrolled by the military. 

A handy compilation of these scenes can be seen in this sober yet partly fun interview with Jay Bhattacharya when he was recently in Melbourne.

Yesterday, September 28, I received a press release from the Australian Medical Network (AMN). A bill before the Queensland Parliament is to be debated and voted into law on October 11.

It will compel doctors to refrain from saying anything that reduces “public confidence in safety.” According to the AMN, the new law means (1) “government health bureaucrats will determine how doctors should approach treatment recommendations for their patients” and (2) would give to the health regulators “the power to sanction doctors for expressing their professional opinion based on their assessment of the best available science.” 

Furthermore, by legal provisions I don’t fully understand but a couple of lawyers examining this have assured me is a correct understanding, once enacted the state law will become more or less the national law.

The Collapsing Official Narrative

The debate is over, the verdict is in: Lockdowns did not work in reducing Covid infection and mortality burdens but did cause enormous and lasting damage on health (especially through canceled operations and deferred screenings for treatable-if-detected-early killer diseases like cancers and heart conditions), mental health, children’s development, youth well-being, and employment, poverty, food security, and economic outcomes. 

Dr. Scott Atlas from Stanford University’s Medical Center and later the coronavirus adviser to President Donald Trump, explained how policies of total isolation prevent the development of population immunity which prolongs the problem. The harm/benefit balance of lockdowns, school closures, masks and universal instead of age-segregated vaccines is tilting increasingly toward net harms.

A US assessment released in September showed school closures had wiped out decades of progress in math and reading. Numerous studies show little correlation between the severity, timing and duration of lockdown either for countries or for US states. Age-adjusted mortality of Florida today is no worse than that of New York. 

Much-maligned Brazil’s mortality rate is less than half that of hard and extended lockdown Peru, significantly lower than Czechia, nearly identical to Chile and only slightly higher than UK and Italy. Its cumulative cases per million people is currently less than half that of Australia and the pandemic’s hermit kingdom New Zealand, and lower than highly-masked Japan and South Korea.

In July 2020, Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said judge me in a year. Two years later, he stands vindicated. Sweden’s cumulative Covid deaths per million puts it 30th of 47 European countries. Many hard lockdown countries fared worse: Czechia, Italy, Belgium, UK, Spain, France, Austria. Sweden’s cumulative excess mortality is lower than these seven. Its cumulative cases per million people is lower than Australia, New Zealand, the EU, the US and South Korea.

Crucially for my purposes today, Tegnell explained in April 2020 that lockdowns have no “historical scientific basis.” Skepticism toward lockdowns and masks was the reigning scientific and policy orthodoxy before 2020. The UK Pandemic Preparedness Strategy, for example, acknowledged that: “Although there is a perception that the wearing of facemasks by the public in the community and household setting may be beneficial, there is in fact very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use in this setting.” 

Western governments were impressed by dubious claims of success from Beijing in eradicating the virus, on the one hand, and panicked by the doomsday predictions of models using flawed assumptions, on the other. But “settled science” built up over a century cannot be overturned in weeks and all the data since early 2020 reinforces the prevailing pre-Covid scientific and policy consensus.

Last December Hillsdale College in Washington, DC announced the creation of the Academy for Science and Freedom. Its mission is “To combat the recent and widespread abuses of individual and academic freedom in the name of science.” In the effort to enforce a nonexistent consensus, dissident scientists were “silenced, censored, and slandered” as the single-viewpoint-dominant public health community actively engaged “in intimidation and false declarations of consensus.” 

Many health experts made profound errors in judgment, failed to adjust based on growing data and continued to pronounce their initial assessments as forever correct. 

Australians…

On September 21, Drs. Conny Turni and Astrid Lefringhausen published an Australia-centric peer-reviewed article on Covid vaccines in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Immunology. They decry the dismissal of robust and durable natural immunity, the banning of treatment using low-cost repurposed drugs recommended by many US doctors and the dogmatic rejection of the claim that, like existing coronaviruses that became endemic even without vaccines, Covid-19 too would do so. 

They hold that under-18s are more than 50 times likely to die from mRNA vaccines, which cause more side-effects than any other vaccine, than from Covid. Their very final sentence asks: “Who gave bureaucrats the means to destroy the fundamentals of science and tell scientists not to argue the science”?

Good question.

In July, Denmark banned Covid vaccines for healthy under-18s and in September also for under-50s. Norway has banned them for healthy under-65s. Both are among the world’s most aggressive countries in public health measures. Meanwhile on July 19, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration approved a Moderna vaccine for children aged 0.5-5 years, followed by a Pfizer vaccine on September 29. They cannot all be following The Science™. 

NSW Health data back Denmark’s and Norway’s conclusion that Covid poses grave risks only to the elderly. In the last four months (May 22–September 17), just 0.1 and 1.5 percent of the 2,134 Covid deaths were under 20 and 50, respectively. Among those with known vaccination status, only 16 of the 7,857 hospital and 10 of 730 ICU admissions were unvaccinated, compared to 5,769 and 538 boosted, respectively. This is consistent with the results from an Oxford study published in Lancet on June 30 which found that two doses of the vaccine increase the infection rate by 44 per cent (supplementary Table 7). The strain on the health system—the only justification for coercive mandates—is much greater from the numbers of healthcare staff who’ve been fired for refusing the jab than from the great unvaxxed. 

… For Science

The combination of growing numbers with natural immunity from infections, the protective benefits of vaccines for high-risk elderly, and diminished lethality of newer virus variants of concern mean we are at a good place for reevaluating the relationship between good science, good policy and good politics. 

I am part of a diverse group of Australian clinicians, academics, lawyers and social, economic and policy commentators united in growing disquiet at federal and state responses to the pandemic. Our main purpose is to reflect on mistakes made and lessons to be learnt in order to avoid repetitions in the future of policy interventions that rely on social coercion and population-wide mandates. 

We believe good science leads to good policies and good politics must underpin, not undermine free societies.

The name of the group is yet to be settled. “Academy for Science and Freedom” could cause confusion with the US group and also worry those disillusioned with academe as the incubator of cancel culture and viewpoint conformism (“‘University’ is the antonym for ‘diversity’”). “Australians for Science and Freedom” broadens the group beyond the academy, yet keeps the intellectual and philosophical links with the US group through the common acronym ASF.

Driven by intellectual curiosity, questioning existing knowledge and the fit between theoretical frameworks and empirical data is the essence of the scientific enterprise. In July 2021, an article in the Wall Street Journal explored how science lost the public’s trust. A poll by the respected Pew Research Center on February 15 mapped falling confidence in medical scientists between April 2020 and December 2021. Journalists and elected officials fared significantly worse.

… and Freedom

The freedom side of the agenda has three components. 

First, free inquiry, including the freedom to be skeptical and question established wisdom or the dominant worldview and set of beliefs, is integral to scientific advance and progress. Without this, we would all still be flat-earthers.

Second of course and, if anything, even more important, is the meaning, practices and survival of a free society instead of a command-and-control society with a China-style social credit system for rewarding compliant and punishing deviant behavior.

Finally, freedom is integral to the practice of medicine. 

It underpins the sacred Hippocratic Oath of “First, Do No Harm.” It is indispensable to the principle of informed consent to treatment options, if necessary after second and third opinions. And it is fundamental to the sanctity of the doctor-patient relationship. It’s deeply unethical for the health bureaucrat and drug regulator to insert themselves as disinterested third parties into that relationship. There is absolutely no substitute for the combination of doctors’ formal training, clinical experience and intimate knowledge of the patient.

Recalling Ronald Reagan’s 1986 bon mot about the nine most terrifying words in the English language, I would have much more confidence in my doctor giving me their best professional advice without a nanny state as a controlling third party in the relationship.

Conversely, the Queensland bill may be our Stalingrad moment, our line in the sand, if I may mix my metaphor about a place that is synonymous with deep snow. If most Australians remain apathetic to this level of state control and not enough doctors say “Thus far but no further,” then we will surely cross over into the Age of Dystopia.

Author

  • Ramesh Thakur

    Ramesh Thakur, a Brownstone Institute Senior Scholar, is a former United Nations Assistant Secretary-General, and emeritus professor in the Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University.


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