COVID censorship appears to be making a comeback—if it ever left.
Numerous physicians and academicians say they have been attempting to publish studies that show that lockdowns had enormous costs and marginal benefits, but they have found many doors were closed.
“The whole scientific review process on anything related to COVID-19 has become highly politicized and contaminated,” Steve Hanke, professor of economics at Johns Hopkins University and former member of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Reagan, told The Epoch Times. Mr. Hanke says he has been among those who have experienced censorship for criticizing lockdowns.
While many people may look back on the pandemic shuttering of schools, businesses and churches as costly, intrusive and, in some cases, devastating failures of government, lockdowns are garnering increasingly favorable reviews within the medical community, as reports critical of lockdowns are being silenced.
This is occurring at a time of revelations that the Biden administration leaned on tech and media companies to silence voices that dissented from the official COVID narratives.
In September, a federal appeals court ruled that the White House, the U.S. surgeon general, the CDC and the FBI had “likely violated the First Amendment” in pressuring social media companies to censor the views of those critical to official government narratives on COVID. The court ordered agencies and individuals within the Biden administration not to “coerce or significantly encourage a platform’s content-moderation decisions,” or otherwise influence social media companies to block protected speech.
“The issue is not whether the ideas are wrong or right,” Dr. Bhattacharya said following the ruling. “The question is who gets to control what ideas are expressed in the public square.”
The Biden administration appealed the decision, which will likely ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court. The central question is the extent to which private companies infringe on Americans’ First Amendment rights if they censor at the behest of government officials.
‘Our Work Was Effectively Censored’
The report by Mr. Hanke, Lars Jonung and Jonas Herby (HJH), titled “Did lockdowns work? The verdict on COVID restrictions,” concluded that lockdowns were “a global policy failure of gigantic proportions.” This study has faced rejection from mainstream medical publishers, while studies that praise lockdowns are being published, and amplified by the media.
“The SSRN allowed the authors of the linked article to upload their work, while our work was effectively censored,” Mr. Hanke said. “Why? Our results went against the dogma of officialdom.”
An article by Mr. Hanke and colleagues, responding to their critics, was also rejected by SSRN, Mr. Hanke said.
In both cases, SSRN stated that the rejection was due to “the need to be cautious about posting medical content.” This appears to be a new criterion and inconsistent with SSRN guidelines, which preclude material that is “illegal, obscene, defamatory, threatening, infringing of intellectual property rights, invasive of privacy or otherwise injurious or objectionable.”
By contrast, a report published by SSRN in September, titled “SARS-CoV-2 lineage importations and spread are reduced after nonpharmaceutical interventions,” gave a favorable evaluation of lockdowns. “Nonpharmaceutical interventions” (NPIs) is the new euphemism for lockdowns, mask mandates, travel bans and other suspensions of civil rights during pandemics.
“Ultimately, SARS-CoV-2 was eliminated during the study period due to contact tracing and mandatory quarantine measures,” the report stated, referring to state restrictions in Hong Kong. In Switzerland, the authors wrote, “strict border closures alongside the 2020 partial lockdown were effective in controlling the entrance of new [COVID] lineages into the country.”
A report published by SSRN in June, titled “Estimating the Population Effectiveness of Interventions Against COVID-19 in France,” stated that “our results highlight the substantial impact of NPIs, including lockdowns and curfews, in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic” and that “the first lockdown was the most effective, reducing transmission by 84%.”
Laying Groundwork for Future Lockdowns
Reports such as these appear to be laying the groundwork for legitimizing lockdowns and other NPI government mandates as a future policy response to pandemics.
An August report titled “COVID-19: examining the effectiveness of nonpharmaceutical interventions,” published by the Royal Society, a “fellowship” of eminent scientists, states: “One of the most important lessons from this pandemic is that the effective application of NPIs ‘buys time’ to allow the development and manufacturing of drugs and vaccines. There is every reason to think that implementing packages of NPIs will be important in future pandemics.”
A group called factcheck.org did their own analysis of Mr. Hanke’s work, citing other academicians who criticized him and emphasizing that the HJH study was not peer reviewed.
“There have been a lot of studies assessing whether and to what extent so-called ‘lockdowns’ and various NPIs have been effective, and plenty of research that has concluded these measures can limit transmission, or reduce cases and deaths,” Factcheck stated.
Inquiry, a medical journal, also refused to publish the HJH paper critical of lockdowns. According to correspondence between Inquiry and the authors, the journal initially requested a peer review by three relevant subject experts.
As the next step in the publishing process, the HJH paper did receive three favorable reviews by Inquiry’s reviewers, Mr. Hanke said. However, shortly after receiving the reviews the executive editor of Inquiry retracted them.
“In my long academic career of nearly 60 years, I have never encountered such a thing,” Mr. Hanke said. “Indeed, I’ve never even heard of such a thing. It’s truly unprecedented and outrageous.”
In a joint op-ed in Econ Journal Watch, Dr. Bhattacharya and Mr. Hanke stated that “there is nothing that matches a looming pandemic to generate fear, and there is nothing like fear to grease the skids of censorship.”
The authors suggested a pattern of government and media cooperation to silence dissent.
“First come the ‘fact checkers’ who produce unfounded, irrelevant verbiage that lacks critical sense or analytical insight,” they wrote. “Next come [media] hit pieces that echo the claims of the so-called fact checkers.”
The end result is an absence of alternative viewpoints from mainstream publications, they said.
‘Too Sensitive’ a Subject to Print
Dr. Vinay Prasad, a physician, epidemiologist, professor at the University of California at San Francisco’s medical school and author of over 350 academic articles and letters, also detailed “a startling pattern of censorship and inconsistent standards from preprint servers” that refused to publish his research criticizing COVID vaccines and mask mandates, while frequently publishing his research on cancer and oncology.
Preprint servers are online repositories that post academic papers.
“Specifically, MedRxiv and SSRN have been reluctant to post articles critical of the CDC, mask and vaccine mandates, and the Biden administration’s health care policies,” Dr. Prasad writes. “Preprint servers are not supposed to be journals— they are not supposed to reject articles merely because the people running them disagree with the arguments within.”
When Dr. Prasad and his colleague Dr. Alyson Haslam wrote a report about their COVID work being censored, SSRN declined to publish that as well, he says.
Dr. Bhattacharya claims that he has also been censored by MedRxiv regarding his analysis that criticized lockdowns. In 2020, he and colleagues Christopher Oh and John Ioannidis, led by Stanford University infectious disease professor Eran Bendavid, conducted a comparison of countries like Sweden and South Korea that did not have government lockdowns against countries that did, and found no statistically significant benefit from mandatory orders on COVID spread.
According to Dr. Bhattacharya, “MedRxiv refused to post the piece, telling the authors that the topic was too sensitive to permit the publication of a preprint, even though the site teemed with modeling analyses purporting to demonstrate the efficacy of lockdowns in limiting the spread of COVID.”
Having published an extended version of their findings in book form, Mr. Hanke and his co-authors are continuing their efforts to also share their study in mainstream medical journals, he said.
“We anticipate that the paper will receive a fair and favorable review and will be published,” Mr. Hanke said.
The Epoch Times reached out to SSRN and Inquiry for comment regarding this article but did not receive a response as of press time.
While the Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN), a premier publisher of medical and other scientific studies operated by Netherlands publisher Elsevier, rejected the final HJH report, it did publish articles that attacked the HJH report.