Martin Kulldorff is one of the three scientists who, after having been brought together by the right wing “free market” libertarian-leaning “think tank” American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) for a long weekend confab at its headquarters in Barrington, MA in October 2020. There they drafted the Great Barrington Declaration to tell the world what should be done about the COVID-19 pandemic. It should therefore be no surprise that Kulldorff recently announced that he’s joining the ideological offspring of AIER, the Brownstone Institute, as Senior Scientific Director. What is the Brownstone Institute, and what does this mean? I’ll get to that in a moment, but first I feel obligated to provide a little background.
Regular readers know that I’m no fan of the Great Barrington Declaration. Indeed, shortly after it was published to great fanfare, social media vitality, and fawning coverage by right wing outlets like Fox News, I wrote a post about it calling it what it was, “magnified minority” (the time-dishonored technique beloved of cranks such as HIV/AIDS deniers and creationists, in which ideological actors draft a petition or statement and try to get as many scientists as possible to sign it, regardless of whether they have any expertise, in order to give the appearance of scientists supporting the statement) and eugenics.
Why eugenics? First, remember that Kulldorff and colleagues drafted the Great Barrington Declaration before any safe and effective vaccines against COVID-19 were authorized. Then consider that their work advocated a “let ‘er rip” approach to the coronavirus pandemic, in which few or no public health mitigation measures should be used and “focused protection” instituted only for those at risk for severe disease and death (e.g., the elderly, those with chronic health conditions like diabetes). The problem, of course, was that there were no concrete policies proposed in the Great Barrington Declaration to flesh out their “focused protection” plan. Also, as many pointed out, if the virus is allowed to spread unchecked through the “younger and healthy” population, there really is no good way to protect those at highest risk, many of whom require these very same people to help care for them. Hilariously, after the firestorm of criticism by scientists, AIER, in an astounding act of hubris and embracing victimhood, likened its role and that of anti maskers and those advocating for the Great Barrington Declaration to abolitionists.
Unfortunately, fueled by AIER’s publicity campaign and that of other right-wing anti-public health groups, which Gavin Yamey and I likened to the “new merchants of doubt,” the Great Barrington Declaration was very influential. President Donald Trump eagerly embraced it, as did Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Unfortunately, it’s still influential. For example, Gov. DeSantis just appointed Dr. Joseph Ladapo, a member of the crank group America’s Frontline Doctors and a supporter of the Great Barrington Declaration, to head up Florida’s Department of Health. More recently Kulldorff struck back at critics in an op-ed that tried to deny the ties between him and his fellow Great Barrington Declaration signatories, Drs. Sunetra Gupta and Jay Bhattacharya, and the AIER. Never mind how, as I described, the Editorial Director of AIER at the time, Jeffrey Tucker, was the key force bringing Kulldorff and his fellow signatories together. He even bragged about being in “the room where it happened,” as the musical Hamilton put it, and suggesting edits to the Great Barrington Declaration, a statement in direct contradiction to the statement to the FAQ on the Declaration’s website (unless Tucker is the “journalist” mentioned), which says:
Who wrote the Declaration?
The Declaration was written by Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, Dr. Sunetra Gupta and Dr. Martin Kulldorff. A family member and a journalist helped with phrasing, grammar, and proof reading. Nobody else saw the declaration before it was completed in its final form.
This brings me back to Kulldorff’s appointment as Senior Scientific Director at the Brownstone Institute:
The Brownstone Institute is pleased to announce that Dr. Martin Kulldorff is joining our institute as Senior Scientific Director. Having served as a professor at Harvard Medical School for the past ten years, he will guide the scientific activities of the Institute, particularly as it relates to the pandemic and the needed public health recovery and reform so that no country will repeat the terrible errors of 2020-21.
Professor Kulldorff’s position at Brownstone begins on November 1, 2021.
“We cannot overstate the excitement we feel about Kulldorff’s deep involvement with our work,” says Brownstone Institute founder and president Jeffrey Tucker. “He brings rigor, focus, and true brilliance, and his position portends great things for us as an institution.”
The Brownstone Institute was founded in 2021 to respond to this crisis with research, publishing, education, and other programs intended as a guiding light out of the crisis.
“Having served as a professor at the Harvard Medical School for the past ten years”? This sure sounds as though Kulldorff left his position at Harvard as a tenured professor of medicine doing statistical research. Indeed, a look at his Twitter profile shows that, contrary to the case even just a month ago, he is no longer listing his position at Harvard there:
Ditto Kulldorff’s LinkedIn profile, where he lists himself as being a professor at Harvard only until 2021 and lists his contact information as being at the Great Barrington Declaration website and Twitter. Oddly enough, his new position at the Brownstone Institute is not yet listed, even though it does show up affiliated at the end of his profile.
Let’s take a look at the Brownstone Institute itself. As I mentioned above, it was founded by Jeffrey Tucker, who at the time of the Great Barrington Declaration, was a high ranking leader at AIER and was, in fact, one of the instigating forces behind the Declaration. If his video interview from a week after the conference that birthed the Great Barrington Declaration is to believed (posted again above), Tucker recruited Martin Kulldorff, wining and dining him over a weekend visit to AIER headquarters, and then Kulldorff, having apparently found “his people” ideologically speaking, spearheaded inviting Stanford professor Dr. Jay Bhattacharya and Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta to Great Barrington for that infamous confab with antimask/anti-“lockdown” lawyer and AIER flack Stacey Rudin and ideologically sympathetic journalists, such as David Zweig, who served as the main interviewer for the videos produced. Of course, Jeffrey Tucker and AIER President Phil Magness made appearances as well.
So it should be no surprise that the Brownstone Institute describes itself as the “spiritual child” of the Great Barrington Declaration:
The mission of the Brownstone Institute – which is, in many ways, the spiritual child of the Great Barrington Declaration – is constructively to come to terms with what happened, understand why, discover and explain alternative paths, and prevent such events from happening again. Lockdowns have set a precedent in the modern world and without accountability, social and economic institutions will be shattered once again. Brownstone Institute is essential in preventing the recurrence of lockdowns by holding decision makers intellectually to account. In addition, the Brownstone Institute hopes to shed light on a path to recovery from the devastating collateral damage, while providing a vision for a different way to think about freedom, security, and public life.
Brownstone Institute looks to influence a post-lockdown world by generating new ideas in public health, scientific discourse, economics, and social theory. It hopes to enlighten and mobilize public life to defend and promote the liberty that is critical for an enlightened society from which everyone benefits. The purpose is to point the way toward a better understanding of essential freedoms – including intellectual freedom and free speech – and the proper means to preserve essential rights even in times of crisis.
So basically the Brownstone Institute is anti-lockdown and antimask, and Kulldorff was brought in to provide an air of scientific respectability to Brownstone’s political beliefs, much as various scientists were recruited by tobacco companies to bolster their claims that smoking was safe:
“Brownstone is being called to serve as a safe haven for genuine science, humane principles, and intellectual integrity during particularly brutal times,” Tucker says. “The hiring of such a great scholar is but one example of the work we will continue to do. His guidance will make an invaluable contribution to the restoration of public health and our ability to recover from the damage caused by Covid restrictions and mandates.”
About his new role, Kulldorff says that “governments, universities and scientific leaders have failed us during this pandemic, resulting in the biggest public health fiasco in history. The questioning of natural immunity after Covid infection is just one example among many. With the censoring of long-established public health principles, we need new organizations to safeguard public health for the future. As part of Brownstone, I am excited to work with other scientists and the public to foster open, rigorous, and intellectual scientific debate. We cannot allow 400 years of enlightenment to end.”
“We cannot allow 400 years of enlightenment to end”? As if it will be the end of that enlightenment if not for the efforts of “freedom-loving” activists like Tucker and Kulldorff? Now that’s some serious hubris!
Perusing the Brownstone Institute’s list of articles, I quickly perceived that the Brownstone Institute truly is the “spiritual child” of the Great Barrington Declaration, although I can’t help but view the Brownstone Institute as more akin to the “Mini-Me” to AIER’s Doctor Evil than as the “spiritual child” of anything. For instance, there’s this article by Robert Freudenthal, The True Meaning of Masking, which portrays mask wearing not as a public health measure to slow the spread of a respiratory disease by air, but rather as a means of “control”:
Masking can act as a tool through which a particular relational dynamic is enacted. The coercive nature of mask mandates means that masks are experienced as being in one part of a coercive relationship. The relationship can be described as:
-moralizer vs those in need of moral correction, or
-enforcer vs enforced.
Wearing a mask represents an entry into a relationship of this type; and a refusal to wear a mask is therefore one way of exiting this dyad.
This is, of course, a common narrative among the right wing antimask/anti-“lockdown”movement, namely that public health interventions don’t represent a means of protecting public health but are instead intended as instruments of “control.” It’s a very anti-public health argument and one that has led to a strong alliance between antivaxxers and antimaskers opposing any public health mandates whatsoever against COVID-19. So it’s unsurprising that Brownstone Institute opposes vaccine mandates of any kind (even referring to them in a truly strained historical analogy as the “new prohibition“); touts the old antivaccine trope of “natural immunity” über alles (Kulldorff too, never mind the false dichotomy between “natural” and vaccine-induced immunity); echoes a common antivax trope in claiming that the push for COVID-19 vaccine booster doses is about profit rather than public health; rails against the thought of vaccinating children, claims that the real problem leading to COVID-19 being so deadly is the effects of obesity and chronic disease on immunity rather than the fact that a coronavirus that can cause severe respiratory disease is spreading unchecked; publishes the accounts of self-described vaccine martyrs who have been fired because they refused to comply with vaccine mandates (good riddance, I say); and argues that the UK should never have locked down at all, ever. And, of course, it’s all “tyranny.”
Naturally, the Brownstone Institute also dons the mantle of “free speech” and “academic freedom” to rail against COVID-19 cranks and disinformation spreaders facing actual professional consequences for their actions as “attacks on scientific dissent.” Perhaps the most hilarious one is an article in which Logan Albright likens current public health and vaccine mandates to, well, just read:
These ideas and similar ones were carried forward even into the twentieth century, when the American government forcibly sterilized tens of thousands of its citizens based on the eugenic theory that “bad genes” needed to be stamped out of the population, by force if necessary, in order to improve the race for the future. It was only after familiarity with Nazi techniques along the same lines that the American public acquired a distaste for this kind of human engineering.
The persecution of medical nonconformity was not limited to the physical. If anything, mental and behavioral symptoms have a history of even more severe reactions. Few people realize that as late as 1987, homosexuality appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association as a mental illness, whose diagnosis justified involuntary treatments ranging from confinement, to drugging, to electroshock therapy.
Before that, the psychiatrist’s toolkit included techniques such as insulin shock therapy and lobotomy, both of which involved the deliberate destruction of parts of the brain in the quest to rid the world of anything abnormal. Thankfully, involuntary treatment for mental patients has been greatly reduced in recent years, but the practice of coerced drugging still continues, troublingly, with children, whose failure to adhere to behavioral norms imposed from above is frequently regarded as a medical, rather than or behavioral or, more likely, a societal problem.
Yes, the Brownstone Institute went there, with Albright going full Godwin and then going on to liken his position to that of those who questioned established and now entirely discredited scientific positions like the ones above. It’s what I like to refer to as the “fallacy of future vindication“—or maybe I should call it the “fantasy of future vindication”—the unshakable confidence exhibited by many cranks that their quack beliefs will one day be vindicated. (At least he didn’t mention Galileo or Arthur Schopenhauer, as most of these cranks do.)
I did appreciate this observation about his recruitment:
In reality, I suspect that it won’t be a problem:
In fact, I’ll even predict that antivaxxers will try to claim that Kulldorff was “silenced” and had to leave Harvard because of his views. Although the whole claim that someone who can regularly publish op-eds in magazines and newspapers with large circulations and has the ears of very powerful politicians is “silenced,” I do nonetheless find it very interesting that Kulldorff left what was likely a cushy academic position to become the “scientific director” of a right wing, COVID-minimizing “think tank” that opposes public health mandates of any kind, be they vaccine, mask, or “lockdown” mandates.
Kulldorff’s move suggests to me that what attracted him (in addition to the grifting opportunities at Brownstone, which, I bet, has provided him with a substantial bump in salary) is that he is every bit as much an ideologue as anyone at AIER or the Brownstone Institute. This observation is supported by the way Kulldorff so quickly responded to Jeffrey Tucker’s entreaties in the fall of 2020 and then went beyond them to push AIER harder to bring Gupta and Bhattacharya to Great Barrington to meet, a meeting that, through Kulldorff’s efforts, occurred weeks earlier than Tucker had initially thought that he could make it happen. Truly, Kulldorff has “found his people,” as well as his grift, at the Brownstone Institute.