October 8, 2020 Reading Time: 5 minutes
spanish inquisition

Earlier this week The Great Barrington Declaration went live garnering over 100,000 signatures at the time of this writing. The declaration, which has now been highlighted by celebrities and intellectuals across the world, called for a “Focused Protection” approach to combating Covid-19. The declaration explains 

“The most compassionate approach that balances the risks and benefits of reaching herd immunity, is to allow those who are at minimal risk of death to live their lives normally to build up immunity to the virus through natural infection, while better protecting those who are at highest risk. We call this Focused Protection.”

Such a policy is grounded in the traditional response to pandemics emulated by countries such as Sweden rather than the experimental lockdown approach that has characterized much of the world’s response to Covid-19. It takes a more realistic approach to the pandemic, understanding that there are certain tradeoffs that must be weighed and affirms the necessity of preserving to the best extent possible the normal functioning of society. The original architects of the declaration are three highly respected figures in the field of epidemiology.

They are Harvard Professor Dr. Martin Kulldorff, Oxford Professor Dr. Sunetra Gupta, and Stanford Professor Dr. Jay Bhattacharya.

The signatories include thousands of public health officials and researchers as well as members of the general public. You can read more about the signatories as well as view the entire declaration on the website

Reddit Censorship

The declaration appeared on the Reddit channels r/COVID-19 and r/Coronavirus, both large online communities with over 300,000 and 2.3 million members respectively. Shortly after both posts were removed by moderators.

This seems rather strange given that these are Covid-19 discussion forums filled with news and research reports relating to the virus. The declaration was crafted and signed by the world’s leading experts in medicine, particularly epidemiology. It is surely more important than this subreddit post about Lana Del Rey being criticized for wearing a mesh mask.

The reasons listed for the declaration’s removal are also unclear. Reddit’s content policy shows no clear guidelines for the removal of content such as the Great Barrington Declaration.

The explanation given from the moderators of r/COVID19

“Posts and, where appropriate, comments must link to a primary scientific source: peer-reviewed original research, pre-prints from established servers, and research or reports by governments and other reputable organisations. Please do not link to YouTube or Twitter.

News stories and secondary or tertiary reports about original research are a better fit for r/Coronavirus.”

The website features an original statement from three of the world’s leading epidemiologists advocating for a drastically different approach to the prevailing policy response to Covid-19. It has over 25,000 signatures including thousands of other public health experts. It is literally a piece of history and the moderators believe it should be viewed as a “news story or tertiary report” meant for the more general channel. 

Unfortunately, the moderators of r/Coronavirus, a channel with over 2.3 million members, did not look too kindly on the declaration either. As shown above, the post was removed and the rationale given was 

“Content must not be spam or be promotional in nature. Spamming the same or very similar posts or comments, as well as self-promotion of any kind will likely lead to a ban. Scams will be reported to authorities.”

The article is clearly not spam and it is not self-promotion. Although the website certainly features a section for individuals to become signatories, it is an original statement with educational material regarding the world’s most pressing issue. In fact, that is the declaration’s primary purpose; to announce to the world a viewpoint and suggest further discussion along with reconsideration. The admins of the more academic-focused r/COVID19 channel even suggested it be posted in r/coronavirus.

The r/coronavirus community description reads 

“In December 2019, a novel coronavirus strain (SARS-CoV-2) emerged in the city of Wuhan, China. This subreddit seeks to monitor the spread of the disease COVID-19, declared a pandemic by the WHO. Please be civil and empathetic. This subreddit is for high-quality posts and discussion.”

What better quality post (leading to a presumably robust discussion) than an original and profound statement from the world’s top epidemiologists? Whether or not you agree with the contents of the letter, this is a serious proposal that will likely leave its mark on history. Oxford’s Professor Gupta, one of the original signatories, has already lectured about her belief in the doctrine advocated by the declaration. The idea of opening up the economy and pursuing herd immunity is a position that experts from different professions across the world endorse. Whether or not that is a good policy can only be decided by implementation and debate. 

Yet the Reddit moderators have opted to stifle what would have been a tremendous discussion opportunity on a website that purports to facilitate such a venue. Again I must reiterate that in r/coronavirus there is currently a post about Lana Del Rey and her mesh mask but the Great Barrington Declaration was taken down.

The declaration has appeared uncensored in other subreddits such as r/LockdownSkepticism, a much smaller and narrower audience.

Lockdown is an Ideology 

Although this development is unfortunate and disappointing it should not come as a surprise. If one even peruses the headlines regarding Covid-19 all one sees are narratives that forward anxiety and despair. The conversation surrounding policy is overwhelmingly skewed towards more lockdowns, more masks, more hysteria. AIER has covered how quickly the media is to jump on conclusions that further their narrative and attack their enemies, even if it means using faulty information in our coverage of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.

There is little conversation surrounding the tradeoffs of lockdowns, let alone an alternate proposal. Those who deviate from the script like former Stanford professor and now White House advisor Scott Atlas or Governor of South Dakota Kristi Noem are immediately demonized. They are called “unscientific” among many other slanderous names while the scientific and empirical discussion has yet to be seen. People seem to get a little too offended when you question the holy word of lockdowns.

Don’t just take it from me; Professor Gupta literally called lockdown a religion at a policy symposium. She noted the constant preaching, the ridiculous proposals, to the outright hostility of even a basic discussion that challenges the prevailing regime.

There can be few other logical explanations for why the conversation surrounding Covid-19 has become the way that it has. Silencing debate and demonizing those who disagree with you has more of a place in the Spanish Inquisition than it does in the halls of science. Public policy is informed not just by experimental theories but real-world observations and input from a variety of perspectives. The Great Barrington Declaration is a piece of history and an intellectual force that seeks to change the world for the better. It is not a generic petition or an obscure piece of misinformation. 

Although Reddit, as a private entity, has more than a right to police content in any way they choose, they should at least attempt to stay true to their mission statement. By stifling debate on such an important topic they are not only tarnishing their brand but contributing to the problem. I pray that this was an honest mistake and that Reddit users will be able to engage in a robust conversation regarding the Great Barrington Declaration.

Ethan Yang

Ethan Yang

Ethan Yang is an Adjunct Research Fellow at AIER as well as the host of the AIER Authors Corner Podcast.

He holds a BA in Political Science with a concentration in International Relations with minors in legal studies and formal organizations from Trinity College in Hartford Connecticut. He is currently pursuing a JD from the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University.

Ethan also serves as the director of the Mark Twain Center for the Study of Human Freedom at Trinity College and is also involved with Students for Liberty. He has also held research positions at the Cato Institute, the Connecticut State Senate, Cause of Action Institute and other organizations.

Ethan is currently based in Washington D.C and is a recipient of the 13th Annual International Vernon Smith Prize from the European Center of Austrian Economics Foundation. His work has been featured and cited in a variety of outlets from online media to radio broadcast.

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