No sacred cows

Why can’t we talk about the Great Barrington Declaration?

17 October 2020

9:00 AM

17 October 2020

9:00 AM

You probably haven’t heard of the Great Barrington Declaration. This is a petition started by three scientists on 4 October calling for governments to adopt a policy of ‘focused protection’ when it comes to Covid-19. They believe those most at risk should be offered protection — although it shouldn’t be mandatory — and those not at risk, which is pretty much everyone under 65 without an underlying health condition, should be encouraged to return to normal. In this way, the majority will get infected and then recover, gradually building up herd immunity, and that in turn will mean the elderly and the vulnerable no longer have to hide themselves away. According to these experts, this is the tried and tested way of managing the risk posed by a new infectious disease, dating back thousands of years.

The three scientists who created it aren’t outliers or cranks, but professors at Oxford, Harvard and Stanford. And since its launch, the declaration been signed by tens of thousands of epidemiologists and public health scientists, including a Nobel Prize winner. So why haven’t you heard of it? The short answer is there’s been a well-orchestrated attempt to suppress and discredit it. I searched for it on Google last Saturday and the top link was to an article in an obscure left-wing magazine claiming the petition was the work of a ‘climate science denial network’ funded by a right-wing billionaire. The top video link was to a Channel 4 News report in which Devi Sridhar, a public health advisor to the Scottish government, denounced the declaration as not ‘scientific’. A bit rich considering Devi’s PhD is in social anthropology, whereas Sunetra Gupta, one of the petition’s authors, is a global expert on infectious diseases. In the first ten pages of Google search results, not one took me to the actual declaration.

It is hard to find any mention of it on Reddit, the world’s best-known discussion website. The two most popular subreddits devoted to the virus — r/COVID19 and r/Coronavirus — have excised all references to it, with the moderators of the latter denouncing it as ‘spam’. A similar line has been taken by nearly all left–leaning newspapers. The Guardian ran an article on the declaration last Saturday, but only to flag up that its more than 400,000 signatories included a handful of dubious–sounding ‘experts’, such as ‘Dr Johnny Bananas’ and ‘Prof Cominic Dummings’. Hardly surprising, given that lockdown zealots have been openly encouraging their followers on social media to sign up with fake names.

But it gets worse. On Monday, Professor Gupta appeared on BBC News to talk about the new lockdown measures in the north of England. Just before she went on air, one of the producers told her not to mention the declaration. Naturally, she ignored this instruction, but where did it come from? At the end of last month, Professor Susan Michie, a member of Sage, took to Twitter to complain that she’d been invited on to the Today programme to discuss focused protection on the understanding that the scientists behind it would be portrayed as beyond the pale, only for Professor Gupta to make a compelling, logical argument. ‘I’d got prior agreement from R4 about the framing of the item,’ she wrote. ‘I was assured that this would not be held as an even-handed debate.’ On whose authority had she been given that assurance?

I suspect Ofcom’s ‘coronavirus guidance’ has something to do with it. This guidance, published when the lockdown was announced in March, warns broadcasters to exercise extreme caution before criticising the response by the public health authorities or interviewing any sceptics. The organisation I set up last February, the Free Speech Union, is currently trying to judicially review this guidance, but in the interim the BBC no longer needs to suppress discussion of the declaration because the WHO, the most respectable public health authority in the world, has done a U-turn on lockdowns. This was made clear on Spectator TV last week by Professor David Nabarro, one of six coronavirus envoys appointed by the WHO’s director-general. ‘We in the World Health Organisation do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,’ he told Andrew Neil, before going on to highlight the collateral damage they’ve caused across the world, echoing the words of the declaration.

Ignore the censors and the smear merchants. Go to right now and sign the petition.

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