Could ‘bitter attack’ on Emily Oster equal coronavirus carnage?

First, I repeat a widely accepted and frequently expressed belief here at SBM. Vulgar language and threats are never acceptable in scientific discussion.

One person likely to have been subjected to such abuse is economics professor Emily Oster, notably when she wrote in March 2021, “Unvaccinated children are vaccinated.” After publishing an article in Atlantic magazine titled, “It’s like grandma.” “Children are not at high risk for COVID-19,” she wrote. They are “naturally protected,” she added. “Being a child is such a great vaccine.”

One of those who rallied to Dr. Oster’s defense at the time was Dr. Jeffrey S. Fryer, Higginson Professor of Physiology and Medicine, Distinguished Professor of Medicine at Harvard University, and former Dean of Medicine (2007-2016). He said:

Of course, it is not clear exactly which “violent attack” Dr. Fryer was referring to.some people twitter she said. article It was “stupid” and “evil”. In addition to this, Professor Oster has certainly been the subject of severe criticism. Peste Magazine awarded her “for her achievements in public health harm by non-public health professionals.” And she highly recommends reading this article by Dr. et al. Abigail Curtus and Justin Feldman. they wrote:

Oster’s influence on the coronavirus debate in schools cannot be overstated. She has been quoted in hundreds of articles on school pandemic precautions and has been guest interviewed on dozens of news programs. Officials from both parties have used her achievements as justification for lifting public health measures. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis cited her research in issuing an executive order banning mandatory mask-wearing in schools, while CDC Director Rochelle Wallenczy called for relaxing social distancing guidelines in classrooms. I referred to Mr. Oster’s work in anticipation. Oster is also the co-author of the impactful school reopening guidance document released in early 2021.

Would Dr. Fryer consider these articles to be “severe attacks”? Perhaps he would.

Of course, harsh criticism is not a “bitter attack”. These are part of a healthy discussion and debate, and Dr. Fryer claims to value it. All too often, harsh but fair criticism is mislabeled as “bitter attacks” in an attempt to shame critics into silence and distract from those who spread misinformation. The pandemic has produced a sad kind of sacred rebuke, one that deliberately avoids substantive discussion. essentially say: Sure doctors say herd immunity arrived two years ago and anti-vaccine misinformation spread, but the real problem is hurting their feelings and it should stop. For proponents of emotion-based medicine, criticizing someone’s ideas is attacking that person personally.wellnessThe anti-vaccine doctor’s “” is the number one priority.

So we come to the most eye-catching part of Dr. Fryer’s tweet. He also wrote, “Her acrimonious attacks on her reflect a moral ailment that so far may rival COVID-19 in ultimate harm.” It’s not the first time he’s argued that language is violence and that sensitive professors need a safe haven. At the beginning of the pandemic, he, along with Dr. Vinay Prasad, wrote a piece defending another influential and inaccurate voice, Dr. John Ioannidis, stating:

Society faces an even more pernicious and lethal risk than COVID-19, when the conduct of science becomes indistinguishable from politics.

However, Dr. Prasad now frequently calls vaccine advocates “idiots,” “stupids,” and “idiots.”illness of the heart“We believe it is important that these views be heard, considered and discussed without humanitarian aggression or hostility,” they wrote at the time.

I agree with their opposition to “humanitarian attacks and hostility”, but let’s compare this to the damage caused by COVID-19 so far. One study found that:

From January 1, 2020 to December 31, 2021, a total of 594 million deaths were reported worldwide due to COVID-19. estimated that 18.2 million people (95% uncertainty interval 17.1 to 19.6) died in COVID-19 pandemic during that period (measured by excess mortality).

This estimate is based only on the first two years of the pandemic and does not take into account the millions of people who survived COVID-19 but were injured by it. Doesn’t that all sound a lot worse than Professor Oster or the most acerbic attack in the history of the world?

Dr. Fryer describes a future dystopia in which brave, contrarian economists hold the key to solving a global catastrophe through articles in The Atlantic, but are instead threatened with silence, resulting in mass death and suffering. You must be imagining In this imagined future, dueling scientists, motivated solely by politics and tribalism, cast juvenile derision rather than civilly civil debates about science and data. In some ways, this sounds like an absurd movie plot. But in another sense, this is exactly what happened during most of the pandemic, especially with the mostly anonymous medical workers on the ground.

  • Hundreds of public health officials have resigned or retired without facing abuse or intimidation. According to news reports, “Some are far-right activists, conservative groups, and anti-vaccine extremists united around a common goal of fighting contact tracing through mask orders, quarantines, protests, intimidation, and personal attacks. They are the target of sects.” According to a survey from new york times“Public health agencies have seen an alarming exodus of staff, many of whom are exhausted and demoralized, partly because of abuse and intimidation.” more than 100,000 top health officials have resigned.”
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci required “personal safety by law enforcement at all times, including at home.” According to reports, “he and his family demanded continued safety in the face of harassment and death threats from people angry at his guidance during the coronavirus pandemic.” Dr. Peter Hotez has been identified for his vaccine advocacy activism and has been the subject of a systematic harassment campaign. According to Dr. Hotez, the hate mail he received “contained all sorts of Nazi imagery, the hanging of Nuremberg, and horrific, terrifying content. It was pretty upsetting.” Dr. Pang was assaulted in the streets for his support of vaccines. Dr. David Gorsky is a victim of a harassment campaign.
  • a Nature A survey of 321 scientists found that “more than two-thirds of researchers reported negative experiences as a result of media appearances or comments on social media, and 22% reported experiencing physical or sexual violence.” has been threatened by Some scientists said employers received complaints about them or their home addresses were published online. Six scientists said they were physically attacked. Dr. Novella discussed this here.
  • As one article put it, “Healthcare workers were heroes at the peak of the pandemic. Now they are under threat.”

Doctors and nurses at a hospital in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, have been accused of murdering a patient by a grieving family who didn’t believe the coronavirus was real, said hospital spokeswoman Kaity Bobbitt. . Some have been the subject of harmful rumors spread by people angry about the pandemic. “Our health care workers feel like Vietnam veterans and are afraid to enter the community after duty,” Bobbitt said.

On Labor Day weekend in Colorado, a passerby threw an unidentified liquid at a nurse working at a mobile vaccine clinic outside Denver. Another person in a pick-up truck was run over and smashed signs around the clinic’s tent.

This is just a very small sample of real-life violence in this pandemic (more examples here), and it’s entirely possible that Professor Oster fell victim to some of this deplorable act. Dr. Fryer would be perfectly right to call this a moral ailment. But as bad as this is, the real health care workers who have been silenced are those who have died from COVID-19. Their voices do not exist at all in the “debate/debate realm in an area of ​​ongoing uncertainty.”

Professor Oster, by contrast, is ubiquitous and important, even though he himself has never cared for a COVID-19 patient. So while it’s true that she was the victim of an indefensible and violent attack, it’s interesting that Dr. she To warn against an imaginary nightmare when our present is exactly the kind of situation he fears – tens of millions dead and countless more wounded. Children became orphans. Schools and businesses were closed. The pandemic has severely impacted every human life on earth. Meanwhile, the intimidated scientists are on the run, the anti-vaccine doctors who manipulated the data are promoted to high positions, defended By Dr. Prasad et al.

Incredibly, Dr. Fryer feels that the “bitter attack” on Prof. Oster “reflects the moral ills that it might equal.” all that.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been working in New York City hospitals throughout the pandemic, but I doubt that a scathing attack on a prominent protected economist will eventually rival the coronavirus carnage. I’m not too worried about it. To be honest, I can’t think of a ‘violent attack’ comparable to tens of millions dead, especially considering that many of the dead must still be alive. The Delta and Omicron variants arrived shortly after Professor Oster published his paper in the spring of 2021, proving that being a child isn’t always a really good vaccine. But even before this, there was already evidence that not all children are “protected by nature.” Sadly, the fact that we did a good job protecting our children in the early days of the pandemic was used as “evidence” that our children didn’t need protection at all.

It is not a “bitter attack” to point out such things to Professor Oster, but certainly someone who pretends to value “debate and debate” will find that I, or anyone else, is a sharp criticism in this area. would like to discourage you from doing so. future.

  • Dr. Jonathan Howard is a neurologist and psychiatrist who has been interested in vaccines long before COVID-19. He is the author of We Want Them Infected: How Herd Immunity Failures Made Doctors Embrace Anti-Vaccine Movements and Blind Americans to the Threat of COVID-19.

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