Medice, cura te ipsum
In their essay “Covid-19 and the new merchants of doubt” (BMJ Opinion, 9/13/21, https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2021/09/13/covid-19-and-the-new-merchants-of-d...), Gavin Yamey and David Gorski present themselves as defenders of sound scientific principles in the face of “denialism” related to the Covid-19 pandemic. These authors specifically target the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), and the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) as sources of what they imply is a misinformation campaign about the efficacy of Covid-19 public health measures. Unfortunately, it seems to us that Yamey and Gorski have misrepresented both the GBD and AIER.
We write to set the record straight.
In October 2020, AIER hosted a small academic conference on the costs and consequences of lockdowns with three highly qualified medical scientists, Martin Kulldorff, Sunetra Gupta, and Jay Bhattacharya. These scientists received no compensation for their participation, which came about due to a mutual recognition that the medical, social, and economic harms of lockdowns were being neglected as countries around the world pursued an aggressive lockdown strategy. At the time the evidence of the efficacy of lockdowns was being debated (https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.07.22.20160341v3). This novel approach conflicted with existing public health recommendations for respiratory pandemics from as recently as 2019 (https://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/our-work/pubs_archive/pubs-pdfs/..., https://www.centerforhealthsecurity.org/our-work/pubs_archive/pubs-pdfs/..., https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/329438/9789241516839-en...).
During the conference, journalists including science writer David Zweig, Forbes’ John Tamny, and Jeanne Lenzer, who reported it for The BMJ (https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m3908), conducted a wide-ranging question and answer session with the scientists, which AIER videotaped for release to the public (https://gbdeclaration.org/video/). At the conclusion of the conference, the scientists drafted the GBD as a general statement of public health principles, calling for an end to lockdowns and outlining an alternative strategy of “focused protection” for vulnerable communities (https://gbdeclaration.org/focused-protection/). While AIER is proud to have hosted the conference that produced this document, its text and principles originated entirely with the scientists - indeed, the idea for a general letter came about spontaneously on the afternoon of October 4 as the conference drew to a close.
Yamey and Gorski’s allegations of fossil fuel and tobacco company interests in AIER are unfounded. These stem from their misunderstanding of AIER’s financial assets as independently managed by our investment subsidiary, American Investment Services. As with any investment fund, these holdings inevitably include stocks from hundreds of companies, none of which have any bearing on our editorial positions. This would be akin to suggesting that Yamey’s own pro-lockdown position is tainted by Duke University’s multi-billion dollar foundation - built from the tobacco fortune of James Buchanan Duke - or that Gorski’s medical work is ethically compromised by the presence of fossil fuel stocks in Wayne State University’s $400 million endowment. To portray either as a source of financial influence appears to display a misunderstanding of the very nature of investments, which are a way of ensuring an institution’s long-term financial stability - not a payoff from the firms whose stocks are owned.
Are financial theories about AIER and the GBD really where these authors want to hang their hats? For the record, AIER publishes its own financial reports every year (https://www.aier.org/financials/). Anyone who wants to see where the money comes from, or where it goes can simply navigate to our website and do so. There are no tricks. There is no deception.
Phillip W. Magness
Senor Research Faculty & Interim Director of Research and Education
American Institute for Economic Research
James R. Harrigan
American Institute for Economic Research
Competing interests: No competing interests