April 14, 2021 Reading Time: 30 minutes

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday April 12, 2021, hosted a second roundtable discussion with public health experts. The first one was taken down by YouTube. In a rebuke to the censors and in the interest of public knowledge of science, the governor held another with most of the same experts. AIER hosted the last one, and it still survives on our platform, so we are trying again, with full video and transcript. 

Ron DeSantis:

Well, good morning. We had a round table last March, or excuse me, last month with some really, really impressive experts discussing the ethicacy of lockdowns, the use of face masks in the general public, the need for in-person schooling, the role of immunity through infection and vaccination, and many other Covid-19-related topics. The panelists on that roundtable were Dr. Jay Bhattacharya, who’s a professor of medicine at Stanford University, a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research, director of the Center on the Demography and Economics of Health and Aging at Stanford University. He holds both an MD and a PhD in economics from Stanford, and he’s published in peer-reviewed scientific journals in medicine, economics, health policy, epidemiology, public health and statistics, cited over 10,000 times in Google Scholar. We also had Professor Sunetra Gupta, who’s a professor of theoretical epidemiology at Oxford University, awarded the Scientific Medal by the Zoological Society of London, awarded the Royal Society Rosalind Franklin Award for quality of scientific research. Among her work with infectious includes malaria, HIV, influenza and bacterial meningitis.:

She’s also a novelist and a translator. She has a consolidated body of theoretical work on the evolution of pathogen population structure, which establishes a novel pipeline for developing a university flu vaccine. The technology has been licensed by U.S. startup, Blue Water Vaccines. Following a successful preclinical study, she’s been cited over 17,000 times in Google Scholar. We also had Dr. Martin Kulldorff, who’s a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, a biostatistician and epidemiologist in the division of pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Research centers on developing, applying new disease surveillance methods for post-market drug and vaccine safety surveillance and for the early detection and monitoring of infectious disease outbreaks. Another other major research area is spatial and spatio-temporal disease surveillance for which he’s developed various scan statistics for disease cluster detection and evaluation, and for early detection and monitoring of infectious disease outbreaks.

These methods are used by many federal and state agencies and around the world, as well as many local public health departments and hospitals. He has been cited over 25,000 times in Google Scholar. We also have Dr. Scott Atlas, who’s the Robert Wesson senior fellow in health policy at the Hoover Institute at Stanford University. He was professor and chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center for 14 years. He has been investigating the impact of government in the private sector on access, quality and pricing and healthcare, innovation and economic issues related to the future of technology-based medical advances. He served as a senior advisor for health care to numerous presidential candidates, counseled members of Congress and was on President Trump’s White House Coronavirus Task Force. And so, we had, I think an hour and 45 minute discussion, covered a lot of different issues.

All the different experts were able to weigh in on there’s, obviously many cited research and many people really appreciated being able to have that type of discussion because you don’t really get that in most of what we see day-to-day. You may get a clickbait headline, you may get someone to tweet something, but this was a way to ask questions, have a discussion. And also, a way to inform some of the policy decisions that have been made in different states and to cite that. Now, Google and YouTube have cited that the insights of these experts I just discussed as being misinformation. And, they say it’s misinformation, even though Google and YouTube routinely hosts conspiracy theory videos ranging from the cause of the 911 attacks to the role that 5G networks play in causing Covid-19. You can pretty much find any misinformation under the sun on Google YouTube.

Now, Google YouTube has not been throughout this pandemic repositories of truth in scientific inquiry, but instead have acted as enforcers of a narrative. A big tech council of censors in service of the ruling elite. And so, when they took down the videos that were posted by some of the local news outlets here in the State of Florida, they were really continuing what they’ve been doing for the past year, stifled debate, short-circuited scientific inquiry, made sure that the narrative is not questioned. And, I think that we’ve seen already that, that has had catastrophic consequences for our society. They were the leaders, the big tech were the leaders in censoring criticism of lockdowns in March of 2020. You had these policies that started to be advocated for, and people, some folks were very, very concerned about it. But if you posted something on one of these sites, critical of the lockdown, it would get taken down, it would get marginalized, it would get suppressed in one way or another.

And, I’ll ask the experts, but I certainly believe that lockdowns have caused large amounts of deaths in the United States and across the world. And so perhaps, if we had had a freer exchange of ideas during those critical months, perhaps we would have been able to avoid some of the terrible policies that we’ve seen take such huge tolls in parts of the world and other parts of our country here in the United States. So now, with the March video 2021, that was censored, they say there’s misinformation about…. One of the passages they said was, “Oh, Martin Kulldorff said masks are not recommended for kids.” “And Jay Bhattacharya said, you shouldn’t be doing it, it could potentially be harmful.” And that, that contradicts quote, “Consensus.” Which raises a couple points, one is, even the WHO in December of 2020 said, “If you’re five and under, you should not be wearing a mask.”

“If you’re between six and 11, you can look and balance various factors,” but they did not outright say people ages six and 11 should do that. That’s the WHO that’s saying that and that was just at the end of 2020. But, it also raises the question about whether scientific consensus is something that we want to be governed by in terms of what information is allowed to be out there. 

And again, I’ll ask the experts this, but the consensus that we see is somewhat of a synthetic consensus, because there’s scientists who disagree with the consensus, who realize what the data said, but they don’t want to stick their neck out because there is serious consequences that a lot of the folks like the Bhattacharya, like the Kulldorff, Gupta, all these people have had to deal with as a result of following the data.

One other point, I think in this, when the YouTube clip of the roundtable was pulled down, and this is something that’s not new, you had those corporate media outlets, particularly the New York based corporate media, they were very favorably disposed to that censorship. And, some of our biggest media conglomerates who claim to be avatars of the First Amendment and free exchange of ideas, they’ve really become cheerleaders for censorship. If something doesn’t fit the overriding narrative, then in their view, it’s better that it get left on the cutting room floor. It’s best that you edit it out of existence, rather than actually tell people the truth. So, I think what we’re really witnessing is Orwellian, it’s a big tech corporate media collusion. And, the end result is that the narrative is always right. Well, I don’t think that, that’s what the American people want, certainly people here in Florida.

So, we have folks back again to be able to address this and some other issues. And so, Jay Bhattacharya, why don’t we start with you just, what’s your response? You saw this, that this was something that was taken down. You’ve obviously participated in roundtables here in Florida with me, but also have been involved on all of these Covid issues pretty strongly for the past year. And, I know this isn’t the first time we’ve seen censorship of this. So, what’s your response to what YouTube and Google did?

Jay Bhattacharya:

I think from a scientific point of view, it’s absolutely terrible for science. For science to work, you have to have an open exchange of ideas and it should be… If you’re going to make an argument that something is misinformation, you should provide an actual argument. You can’t just take it down and say, “Oh, it’s misinformation,” without actually giving you a reason. And saying, “Look, it disagrees with the CDC is not enough of a reason.” Let’s hear the argument, let’s see the evidence that YouTube used to decide that it was misinformation. Let’s have a debate. Science works best when we have an open debate. And governor, I also agree with your interpretation of the role of the media in this. Censorship is not consistent with American norms. I mean, the American norms involved again, free exchange of ideas.

I think our conversation around Covid had been deeply, deeply enfeebled by the sort of notion that there’s some things you can and cannot say. I mean, I think in the roundtable that we did last March or the end of last March, I mean, I think we did our best to try to evaluate the evidence as it was. You can evaluate arguments, maybe we were right, maybe we were wrong, I mean, that’s how science works. You do the evaluation based on the evidence. And, if someone presents to me better evidence, I’ll change my mind. I mean, that’s what my obligation is as a scientist. I think the censorship is an enormous mistake that has been made throughout this entire year, this idea that you have a narrative that you have to follow has been an errant, which sort of made it more difficult to address the epidemic in a meaningful way.

Ron DeSantis:

Martin Kulldorff, your response to YouTube censoring the roundtable.

Martin Kulldorff:

Yeah. The immediate problem we had to deal with is of course, the pandemic and the damages from the lockdown. But if we see it long-term, I’m very worried about the future of science, because science is dependent on free exchange of ideas and it has been for 300 years now. So, if this continues, this kind of attitude with censoring certain scientific views, then I think we have reached the end of 300 years of enlightenment. And, that would be very, very unfortunate.

Ron DeSantis:

Scott Atlas, censorship, YouTube taking down the clip, your response.

Scott Atlas:

Yes, governor. I mean, obviously, I think this is so harmful. It’s harmful when you have a lack of the ability to say what you believe in general, because we will never arrive at the solutions to problems. There will be other crises. It’s not over with this pandemic. There will be another pandemic. There’s almost no question about that. There will be other crises. And, the way you arrive at the solutions is to be able to seek the truth and state what you believe the evidence or anything else has been showing. And then, there is a debate. And, this is really a pattern that we have now in the United States. It’s not just in the media, it’s on academic campuses. When you have this sort of censorship among universities, which are supposed to represent the sources of critical thinking in this country and perhaps in the world, the U.S. or the universities.

And then, you have these sort of attempts to censor or ad hominem, rebukes, this kind of thing that has happened to me personally, but also others. It doesn’t just stop the scientific truths that are being arrived at, it stops excellent people from be willing to state what they believe, to be willing to serve in the government, to be willing to help the country. And, when you have people like myself who went to help the American people, no matter who was the political person in charge and those people, because of, I believe a political hatred, a politicization of everything now in the United States, this sort of attack, the censorship is all part of that. There’s nothing more dangerous than being able to censor what is said in a country. Because then you are simply not ever going to even hear the truth and you are entering into a phase of countries that we used to criticize severely, like the USSR, like communist China. What is going on here? I have been personally censored many times, both on YouTube and on Twitter, for quoting sources like the World Health Organization. This is almost the end of our civilization if we have this sort of censorship, I’m afraid.

Ron DeSantis:

Yeah. Jay Bhattacharya, can you talk about specifically the academic community and how they’ve handled it? It just seems to me that if you look at some of the issues we discussed in that roundtable, if we went back two years, not a lot of people would advocate for lockdowns. This was a thing that was stumbled into. And the idea that that can’t be criticized or whatnot, heck, if you go back to March of 2020, people were saying don’t wear face masks, that they hadn’t proven to be effective with the general public in all these clinical trials. Now, if you say that maybe a five-year-old kid doesn’t need it, that that’s somehow something that can’t even be discussed. So, how did we get here, and specifically the role of the scientific and academic community of really, I think, it’s from my vantage point jettisoning the idea of real serious inquiry, always questioning things, to basically trying to get most people to just fall in line and keep their mouth shut.

Jay Bhattacharya:

Let me echo Dr. Atlas, who’s a colleague of mine at Stanford. The academic community has , in many ways, not performed well during this epidemic. Almost it’s worked as a way to try to stop people from questioning this orthodoxy. And Governor, you’re absolutely right. In February of 2020, lockdown was seen essentially as a radical step. The pre-pandemic plans that I had known about did not recommend lockdown, not under the situations that we actually ended up doing it. And you could see it in some of the… Even President Biden’s advisers on Covid opposed lockdown back then. But overnight, I think partly based on real data, that the Covid a real threat, but also panic, I think. People changed their minds, and the academic community changed its mind, but it didn’t do so in a way that was purely evidence-based, I believe.

Worse, it sought to clamp down on anybody that might have some skepticism about whether this was the right path. It is an absolutely extraordinary path, and Governor, you cited some information about the collateral harms. I hope we get to talk a little bit more about them, because they are absolutely devastating, both for the United States and the world, in terms of health and many other things.

I think it’s worth having a debate, and it was worth having a debate, an open one, early on when we got into lockdown and continuing all the way through. This is an absolutely extraordinary policy that we follow that has touched every single human being on the face of the earth. And in many ways, have harmed every single poor person on the face of the earth. It absolutely should be open debate, and the academic community has not done well in allowing that debate to happen.

Ron DeSantis:

So Martin Kulldorff, bucking a “consensus,” what’s the data that’s supporting that consensus? I think ultimately, we need to look at the evidence and make evidence-based decisions. So for example, we recently had… I think it was right before our roundtable, you had Texas and Mississippi repeal their mask mandates, repeal I think some of the remaining restrictions that they had had in place. And then now we’re in a situation where you have states like Michigan, New York, New Jersey, that have continued to have mandates and restrictions. And people look at that, and they see big declines in Covid in Texas and Mississippi, without mandates and restrictions. And you see some surges, particularly in a place like Michigan, even with… by all accounts, one of the most draconian set of policies for the last year. And so, that’s right in front of our eyes. And the idea that we can’t discuss that because that bucks the consensus… Shouldn’t the consensus at least be based on the facts?

Martin Kulldorff:

It should, then it also should be a true consensus, which is it isn’t. So it’s clear that people were arguing that masks will protect us, but it’s clear that we had this big wave now during the winter, despite lockdowns, mask, and contact tracing. So to think that masks give a good protection is a naive fallacy, and actually a dangerous fallacy, because I think a lot of older people have been convinced that, or been told that wear a mask and you’ll be safe. And then they go out and about in a crowded setting, and they feel safe because they wear a mask and other people wear a mask, but they are not. Older people are at very high risk for Covid, so they need to be much more careful and have physical distancing. So masks doesn’t… It’s not going to protect them properly.

At the same time, children, they are at very low risk for mortality of this disease. And they don’t spread it very much. So there’s no reason why small children should have to wear masks. And I think there are negative, harmful consequences because a small baby, they need to be able to learn to see faces. And the young children need to learn how to see expressions and so on. And also, of course, they need to be able to breathe properly.

And another problem is with people having received the vaccine. So once you have had your vaccine and wait two weeks, these vaccines are very, very good. So they’re very protective. So then you don’t need masks anymore. So for example, Anthony Fauci goes out and says you still need to wear masks, that reduces the trust in vaccines. And I think that’s very bad because we have spent decades trying to build confidence in vaccines in general, that has really put to the test now this year. And not only for Covid vaccines, because if there’s distrust of one vaccine, you get a distrust of other vaccines. So those who are claiming that you have to wear masks after you have already been vaccinated, I think they have done more damage to the confidence in vaccines than the very small group of anti-vaxxers have ever been able to do.

Ron DeSantis:

I would just note that there’s the video from March of 2020 that’s still on YouTube, where Dr. Anthony Faci said there’s no reason to be walking around with masks in the middle of an outbreak. There’s a clip on YouTube from the World Health Organization. This was filmed by WHO before Covid, but they say only symptomatic individuals should ever wear a mask. And then there’s also a clip on YouTube from another WHO expert, Dr. Margaret Harris, just saying we don’t recommend wearing a face mask unless you’re coughing and sneezing a lot.

So I take it that that is still up. Obviously, I think YouTube would say that because you guys have said similar, that that would be misinformation. And so the idea that you’re censoring is ridiculous, but it obviously isn’t even being done on an even basis.

Dr. Atlas, just in terms of the data and the evidence, if there’s a consensus that the lockdowns are effective or that mandates for masks or whatever we talk about are effective, that would certainly, at this point, a year later, be borne out in the data. And so I would imagine that if that were the case, the states that didn’t do those would have the highest per capita mortality, and the states that did it would have the lowest per capita mortality, but that’s not quite what’s ended up happening, is it?

Scott Atlas:

No, it’s not. And in fact, the reason we’re even really highlighting Florida is because we have the experiment. The experiment’s been done in the United States. And when you compare, although it’s difficult to compare different regions, you look at the only statistic, really, that is a reasonable statistic to compare in terms of deaths in a pandemic, that epidemiologists would recommend using, and that is excess mortality. And when you look at the excess mortality rates, the rate of higher excess mortality, the percent higher excess mortality for Florida during the pandemic is about… Beats about two-thirds of the states.

And so, I think this is really extraordinary, factual, and cannot be ignored. We’re talking about looking at the data, and it’s not the burden on Florida to say that Florida did better. The burden is on the states that introduced the recommendations of the faces of public health, because those were implemented. When people say lockdowns, those policies that led to lockdowns were recommended and implemented by almost every state in this country. Florida is the exception, and Florida did not do worse, which would be necessary to prove that lockdowns are impactful in a positive way. Florida even did better than most states that did the severe lockdown.

So without the harms, the tremendous harms of the lockdowns, which are not just economic at all, of course, that’s a false portrayal. But the harms of the lockdowns, and I could go on and on, and I won’t do it right now, but include to children, to working class people, especially to minorities, to single parent homes. This is heinous abuse of the term public health to introduce lockdowns. And Florida actually did as well or better than two-thirds to 70% of the states. So you have to say, there is no evidence.

In fact, I can quote John Ioannidis who wrote a review and an analysis that actually Jay Bhattacharya is a coauthor on. He summarizes the results of saying the severe lockdowns were not effective, and in many cases were pro-contagion. So they were even worse. This is really fact. I don’t know why this cannot be stated and looked at, but somehow this is termed anathema. This is termed misinformation. I think it’s very… It’s almost not… It’s explicable to me to see what’s going on with censoring the actual facts. Policies have to be based on fact.

I am a health policy expert. My role is to interpret the data and generate public health policy. And as a public health policy expert, the task, the ethical underpinning of public health is to consider the total impact on public health of the disease and the public health policy that is being constructed. That is exactly why you cannot, as a nation, afford to have a virologist or an immunologist dictate public health policy. You have to have someone who understands public health policy. That’s the role here. And that’s what people like me are doing. And they have to actually also how Jay Bhattacharya’s careers, if I may say it, as well as Martin’s now. And even more so, people who are concerned that this is off the rails. The facts are the facts. They cannot be denied. And in the world of the United States, facts matter.

Ron DeSantis:

Dr. Kulldorff, we mentioned in the efficacy of some of these things, particularly with the lockdowns, I know we discussed that a lot. Criticism of lockdowns was censored by big tech. The academic community was not… I’m sure anything you were trying to write in March and April, both… I’m sure it was very hard to land some of that stuff because there wasn’t a very welcome reception for it. So, the criticism of lockdowns was something that if you just did a normal diet of regular media, you probably never came across that in March of 2020, April of 2020. Now looking back, do you believe that those lockdowns had been responsible for additional mortality? And so the people that were raising concerns were concerned about the effects, have some of those negative effects proven to unfortunately have come to fruition?

Martin Kulldorff:

Yes, they have in two different ways. So, one way is the key feature of Covid is that while anybody can get infected, the risk for mortality has to be more than 1,000 fold difference between the oldest and the youngest. So the key thing to prevent death is to protect the older people, because they are the one who are at risk for dying. And the naive belief that these lockdowns would protect everybody. That meant that standard, basic public health measures to protect the old were never implemented. That lack of properly protecting nursing homes or people in mass generational homes, or people who live at home but needs certain help, or even people in their 60s and 70s who are still in the workforce, the failure to do that has really generated many unnecessary deaths.

So those who propagated the lockdowns, I think they are responsible for some of these 600,000 deaths that we almost have seen now. And if we had done a focused protection of doing a better job protecting the old people, we would have had fewer death in Covid-19. But that’s only one half of the coin. The other half is that this collateral public health damage because of the lockdowns. So we, for example, saw child vaccination rates plummeting. People did not go to the doctor or the hospital, when have a chest pain, for cardiovascular disease problem. We have had a mental health problem has skyrocketed and cancers are down in 2020, but that’s not because of less cancer it’s because people didn’t go to get the screening or didn’t go to the doctor so the cancers were never detected. And some of these mortalities, things that we already saw now during the last year, but other things I think they’re going to have to live with and die with for many years to come, so for example, if a woman didn’t get a cervical cancer screaming, she might now die three or four years from now instead of living another 15, 20 years. So these are the consequences of these lockdown, the negative consequences is something that we unfortunately have to kind of deal with for quite some time.

And of course closing the schools is also an enormous tragedy. And especially if we’re working in middle class children whose parents can’t afford to do tutors or private schools. And that’s not justification, we also know that if children don’t get proper education, they have worse both physical and mental health outcome, as well as their social development. So there’s absolutely no reason to keep schools closed, they should all open. Tomorrow I trust the country for in person teaching.

Ron DeSantis:

Jay Bhattacharya, kind of where do we go from here? I mean, I think as Dr. Atlas said, Covid is obviously not over. We’re in a much better spot now than we were a year ago in terms of having vaccines, really very effective monoclonal antibody treatments, which doesn’t get any media attention, but I mean, a real serious reduction in hospitalization risk for folks that take that early. Of course, we do have more infection, conferred immunity, so there’s more resistance in the population.

We got obviously more to do in Florida. Everyone can get a vaccine regardless of age and we’ll continue pushing that through, but there is going to be other issues that come on the horizon into the future and having kind of gone through the last year we’ve seen attempts to stifle debate, censor, take down so I guess it has implications for how people view medical experts, academic experts, obviously how they view mass media and big tech. What are we supposed to trust going forward?

Jay Bhattacharya:

Well, regarding Covid policy, Governor, I think you have it right. I mean, I think the key thing is we should continue to vaccinate the vulnerable population. For that, actually I think the most important thing is good public health messaging. We shouldn’t be telling… I think I heard Dr. Fauci say that he wasn’t going to go visit a restaurant or sort of resume any normal life, even though he’s been vaccinated. I think that’s an enormous public health messaging mistake because the vaccines are excellent and they should count it as excellent that they allow you to live your life with considerably less fear about Covid than you might’ve had before you’re vaccinated.

We should tell the public that and so that the vulnerable don’t decide that they shouldn’t get vaccinated because it won’t help them, which is wrong. It will help them. So I think that’s first and foremost. We should lift the lockdowns as Professor Kulldorff said, we should open the schools immediately. There is no good reason why any school in the United States is not open for in-person learning at this point. And we should start to address the fear, the undue fear post-vaccination of Covid.

The Covid risk in much of the country has declined. I think we’ve come to be conditioned to think about cases rising as the end of the world. I mean, cases rising is not a good thing, but it’s not the end of the world. With the increase in vaccine-mediated immunity and also national immunity in the population, what we’ll start to see is that there’s going to be a decoupling of cases and deaths and severe outcomes, hospitalizations won’t follow after cases rising as it did in the past year, deaths will not follow after cases rising as did in the past year, because there’s so much more immunity in the population as a result of sort of infections and also the vaccines.

If we protect the vulnerable with the vaccines, we’re not going to see the rise of hospitalizations and deaths that we saw as a result of cases. We should stop tracking… It’s like during the Iraq War eventually, was tracking the number of deaths or during the Vietnam War, tracking the number of casualties on the other side was that actually a measure of progress? The answer was no. You want to measure progress based on real things.

So for instance, we should start talking about… That’s the first step. Let’s address the fear. Let’s continue to tell people that the vaccines are fantastic, especially for vulnerable people and then the next step after that, and Dr. Kulldorff said this perfectly, we have to address the long-term harm from these lockdowns. This is something we’re going to have to take very seriously. It’s going to be a wide-ranging in the kinds of things we’re going to need to do. We’re going to need to double down on addressing, for instance, obesity rates in the United States. We’re going to have to double down on addressing cancer screening. We’re going to have to double…

Because all of these aspects, mental health, that’s another aspect I think that has been enormously damaged by lockdowns and worldwide the lockdowns have induced tens of millions of children going into poverty. It’s caused this crisis in sort of almost… the UN estimated there were 130 million people who were at risk of starvation. That’s actually a large part come to pass that there’s large number of amount of food insecurity in the world. We need to have to start to address that. That’s going to be a multi-year effort to address the harms of the lockdown.

Immediately, let’s end the lockdowns across the country as best we can, as quickly as we can, continue to vaccinate, do good public health messaging, address the fear and then address the lockdown harms.

Ron DeSantis:

Great. Dr. Atlas, you have any final thoughts?

Scott Atlas:

Yeah. I would like to add something, which I think is one of the long-term consequences that has not been really highlighted, that is we in the United States, the public health officials have created a damaged generation. And why do I say that? I’m talking about the younger people. When we look at just a few statistics here, even back in June after the first two or three months of lockdown, one out of four people in the United States of college age thought of killing himself. We have a massive psychological harm we have in teenagers tripling of reported doctor visits for self-harm. We have a group of people, 18 to 24 talk about weight gain and a potential health disaster, 74%, I think of people 18 to 24 had an unwanted significant weight gain or loss with 52% of people, 18 to 24 American college age people, 52% had an average weight gain during the lockdown of 28 pounds.

I mean, we’re talking about a horrendous public health disaster, not just the cancers that have been missed, not just the heart attacks and strokes, we have a massive psychologically damaged younger generation here. The fear here in the United States, 50% of people in that generation are afraid of any social interaction according to a recent survey. More fearful than people who are over 65 by almost 60%. In other words, people over 65 who are the ones at risk are not nearly as fearful as the people in the 18 to 24 college age group.

I think we’ve really done a massive catastrophic disservice to younger generation Americans here. And so the question is very much so what you said, Governor, which is that, who do we trust? Where is the trust and expertise now? Experts have not just failed. They have failed to admit that they failed and this kind of confounds the identification of truth and who is an expert. So I recommend to the American people, if I may do so, that you should look at people who have been consistent in what they’ve said, you should look at people who have cited the data, not just emotion, not just uncertainty. And then you have to look and actually in the world, we’re in you have to think for yourself and make some conclusions on how you want to live your life.

Ron DeSantis:

Great. Martin Kulldorff, do you have any final thoughts?

Martin Kulldorff:

I agree with the concerns about the future now, and that we have to step up our efforts to help people with their mental health and social well-being. And I think that’s something that’s not only for the medical professions and the scientific community to deal with. It’s also important, for example in educational setting and also religious organizations and churches and mosques and synagogues and temples and so on. Because for many people that’s an enormous strength in their life to have that both for the social bond, as well as the spiritual and the mental health. So I think these organizations have an enormously important role to play in the next few years.

Ron DeSantis:

Great. Well, I’ll see if anyone has any questions for you all. I’ll just say to see a very reasoned, very intellectual discussion that we had last month with obviously people that are very strong and not that the credentials mean you’re always right because obviously we know that that’s not the case. But when you look at you folks, Dr. Gupta, these are folks obviously that are very serious in terms of either epidemiology or public health policy and for them to try to take it down, and they actually took it down off local TV stations here in Florida who had posted it up so it was also taking down some of their… I think it was really, really troubling.

Now we’ve recognized the problems with how big tech has been conducting itself. We’re going to do something about it in the legislative session this year and I think this is just another reason why we need to do what we were doing. When tech really started exploding in this country with the internet and the ability to do all these things, which you didn’t even have social media at first, that came later, it was really very liberating in many respects because you kind of had the legacy media, which obviously had a certain perspective and this was a way where people could go around that, interact, share ideas on a variety of things, not just something like this.

And so it was really, these were really liberating platforms. It seems like in recent years, they’ve shifted from being platforms to really welcome debate, to platforms that are censorious and that are seeking to be enforcers of the ruling classes, elite narratives. And that’s a much different job and I think they’ve not been able to do it in any way that’s principled. Obviously there’s other videos up that would be much more problematic than anything that was said on that. But I think what they’re trying to do, I don’t think it’s principled, I think it’s ultimately, these are massive, powerful private companies that are basically in service to propping up whatever the narrative is at the given moment.

And the facts don’t matter as much, they didn’t cite any data. They just cited that some of you had dissented from some other views. Well, science in particular needs to have dissenting views aired. That’s how a lot of these breakthroughs end up happening. And so it was disappointing to see it, but I’m glad that we’re back. We’re not going to be silenced. We’re going to make sure that folks get to hear from some of the great experts in the country and also be able to actually hear what the data has revealed over the past year.

And of course, I don’t think that the anti-lockdown stuff should have been censored last March, of course not. But to do it now, after we have a year of experience and shows the shortcomings of these policies, man, that’s really, really troubling. Does anyone have any questions for any of these folks? Any topic on topic questions? Yes.

Well, we’re looking at that. This is apart from even this instance, people have provided some ideas, we’ve kind of kicked a lot of different things around. So we may have some ability to ask for some more teeth in the bill. And I don’t know that this would have applied or not. I mean, I do think that this is an example of applying terms of service or things like that in ways that are not principled and that obviously are not done equally across the board regardless of viewpoint. And that’s really the issue that we’re trying to get at.

The question is, and maybe we’ll start with Jay Bhattacharya. How do you feel about kind of your credentials effectively being called into question just by the fact that you’ve dissented from some of the other views? I mean, I went through you guys’ resumes, obviously there’s a lot of heft there, but nevertheless, it seems that’s not enough for some people to want to let you speak.

Jay Bhattacharya:

I mean, I’ve always believed the credentials don’t matter in science. If you have a good idea, you can have no credentials and if the evidence supports your position, then you’re right so I don’t care about my credentials. The question is whether I’m saying things that are correct or incorrect, let’s have a debate. Let’s look at the evidence and decide on the basis of the evidence. I mean, this focus on credentials is irrelevant as far as I’m concerned. The key thing is have the lockdowns worked? Have they actually served to protect the population? Were there better ideas available like focused protection? What are the harms of the lockdown? How can we address them going forward? I think those kinds of things would deserve engagement by everybody, whether you have credentials or not.

Ron DeSantis:

Martin Kulldorff?

Martin Kulldorff:

Well, that’s one example as a response to the censoring tweet to say, “I don’t know of any infectious disease epidemiologist twisting that a five-year old children needs to wear a mask,” but if there are, I would be delighted to have a debate with that person and I think that’s what science is about. We need to have debates rather than censoring and not slandering. When we do censoring and slandering, even if we are willing to continue to speak out, there are many other scientists that I know, including meningeal scientists who do not want to speak out because they see what’s happening to us and they don’t want to have to go through the same thing. So we really need a debate, and if people want to debate masks or lockdowns or vaccines, I will be delighted.

Ron DeSantis:

Just to follow up on that, have you seen a change? I mean, obviously you’ve been involved in science for a long time, has there been a change in the ability or the willingness of some of your colleagues to entertain debates and to really try to scrutinize some of these issues, or is there always been, as you mentioned, some of your younger colleagues, they don’t necessarily want to speak out because they fear blowback, obviously, if you want a tenure position or all these other stuff? So is this new in terms of the career that you’ve had or has it always been there? Is it getting worse? I mean, how would we as lay people look at this?

Martin Kulldorff:

I suppose it’s yes and no, because there’s always been that a fair amount of herd thinking in science, and I think that’s unfortunate, but it’s natural because if you do what other people do and do a little bit beyond that, that’s when you can get the grants and get your papers published, and somebody who goes out and do something very right different may have a harder time. So that’s always been there for a long time, but this type of fear of speaking out and censoring is something new, I think, that I haven’t likely experienced before. I’m absolutely just stunned with what happened. Back in March, I wasn’t able to publish my thoughts on the pandemic, even though I have two decades of experience working with infectious disease outbreaks. I couldn’t publish anything in the US, neither the more popular nor the scientific media. I was able to publish in my native Sweden without problems, but in the US, no.

Ron DeSantis:

But even in, I know that Sunetra Gupta, I think, would have had a similar experience to you in the United Kingdom and in different parts of Europe. They were very difficult to get her and obviously she’s had a lot of experience. Okay. Any other questions?

Speaker 1:

Governor DeSantis, yeah. The Senate proposed $60 million in mental health cuts in their budget. Would you veto a budget with any mental health cuts, given what we’ve talked about here with the necessities of making for mental health infrastructure is robust?

Ron DeSantis:

My budget supports mental health. We think it’s very important and we’ll fight for that and we think that we’ll be able to achieve that.

Speaker 2:

Governor, this is somewhat off topic, and that is your thoughts about corporations getting veiled threats at their bottom line if they don’t oppose the election legislation here in Florida.

Ron DeSantis:

Oh, well, so I mean, we’re going to have more to say on this but I can tell you this, these businesses that are in Florida, they have every right to advocate for things that affect them, attack me, really. They can advocate whatever they want to, I guess, but when they’re getting involved in either elections legislation, things that do not concern their business or their operations, to me that is interfering in the political process. Our process is governed by people that get elected and that are trying their best. I think most people in the legislature are doing their best to try to represent their constituents. It is not to be represented and governed by large corporations and so that is not going to be the policy in Florida.

I find it very odd that you will have some of these corporations, that they will basically adopt these fact-free narratives as if they’re fact. So a narrative starts going. You have New York-based corporate media, will spin it even more, big tech will amplify it and then these folks are adopting that narrative as if it’s fact without actually identifying, “Okay, why is that something that’s problematic?” So I think it’s a huge mistake, but when you do that, when you say you can’t have a photo ID in Georgia, but yet you’re doing business with the Chinese Communist Party or Major League Baseball, they’ve gone down and hobnob with the Castro regime in Cuba. So no voter ID in Georgia, that is a bridge too far, but you can go down to a place like Cuba where they persecute political opponents. Not voting, not showing an ID to vote because they ain’t voting. And so the hypocrisy of all this, I think these companies are going to end up in a situation where they’re going to tie themselves in knots and they’re not going to be able to square the circle.

And so yes, you have an aggressive woke ideological left that at least sees itself as ascendant. They obviously have organs of our society that amplify that message, but I can tell you that is not the way we want this done in Florida. We will not look favorably on these big corporations that get involved in our process on things that don’t concern them. Look, if there’s a tax or a regulation, obviously you can have your views known, but when you do that, we believe that that’s improper, that that interference is not accurate and it’s also… So they move the All-Star Game out of Atlanta. Okay. The Braves make the playoffs, what are you going to do? Are you going to not let them have playoff games there? It’s ultimately nuts and it’s not something that I think is sustainable, but these folks, actually, some of these large global multinational corporations, if they are involving themselves in our business, then look, I mean, we have to point out the hypocrisy and we have to look to see, “What is your relationship with the Chinese Communist Party? Well, have you spoken out?

You notice, some of these companies that are the most vocal about Georgia’s election law, they also worked like hell to stop the federal bill that would have tried to prevent use of slave labor in China, because  some of them are using it. Some of them are getting rich off people being persecuted overseas. How about we talk about that? And one final thing on this Georgia, the state of Florida counted 11 million votes, 99% were counted by midnight on election night. It was efficient, it was transparent, there’s no way anyone could have not had confidence in the results. Georgia, the morning after the election, they didn’t even know how many ballots were outstanding. It took them days and days and days just to count ballots like you would normally count. And so the idea that they don’t need to address that, that that somehow was a good election, obviously there were some big problems and it shouldn’t take weeks to count the ballots.

We didn’t do that in Florida. We’ve got a much larger state than almost anybody except Texas and California. So we’re going to have more to say on this and I think it’s just something that is getting way out of hand. It’s not good. When you politicize every aspect of our lives, that is not healthy for society, that exacerbates and contributes to polarization and divisions and it’s ultimately not going to be in the best interest of a lot of these companies.

Speaker 1:

Governor DeSantis, more off topic, what do you make of the allegations against your former-

Ron DeSantis:

I don’t have anything to say. Anything else? Anything else?

Speaker 1:

I guess, explain how this is a benefit to the Florida taxpayers. Playing devil’s advocate, governor of the third largest state in the country is obviously a Roundtable of things on the internet [inaudible 00:54:06].

Ron DeSantis:

Well, you don’t think there’s people in the state of Florida that are concerned about censorship and seeing how massive companies are controlling the terms of the debate on some of the most important issues facing our country, and really facing the world? When you’re censoring criticism of lockdowns, which big tech did over and over again, the corporate media obviously ignored any criticism of that, they were pushing their narrative, but these big tech companies ostensibly are platforms where people are able to contribute and they censor that and that’s had disastrous consequences. As Martin Kulldorff said, there’ve been deaths from lockdowns, a lot of deaths because of lockdown policies. There were people that were trying to sound the alarm and they were smothered and suffocated. So it has huge implications. If we can’t have an open debate about some of the most consequential decisions that have ever been made in our modern society, that is really, really problematic.

And so I know there’s a lot of people that are concerned, and it’s interesting, there’s also people out there who are more pro lockdown but still disagree with the censorship because they understand that, okay, maybe they disagree with the Bhattacharyas and the Guptas, but maybe someday big tech comes after their perspective that they want to be shared. So it’s not a road that we want to go down and I think that there’s a lot of folks that are very concerned about where this goes. Do we really have our discourse limited by a handful of massive, large, very wealthy Silicon Valley companies, and is the discourse going to be filtered through basically the whims of their ideology? Because that’s really what we’ve seen. There’s a heck of a lot of information on Google, YouTube. There’s no doubt about that.

I mean, it is pouring with misinformation, but to single out a round table that was data-focused, that was really looking to answer some, some questions that have been, that have been nagging the world and the country for the last year, to not even allow that as part of the debate, that should give everybody some cause for concern. So yes, this wasn’t necessarily what we envisioned when we did our big tech bills, precisely because quite frankly, this is even more egregious than even what I thought had been happening, but this shows you why we need to give people some protections. We need to be able to make sure that they’re not being discriminated against. If you advertise an open forum, provide the open forum, and if you’re not then that should activate some consumer remedies. So, okay. Well, thanks guys. We’ll see you soon.

AIER Staff

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