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Jay Bhattacharya: How Stanford Failed the Academic Freedom Test

re: Jay Bhattacharya
re: ethics in medicine

IMO, Jay Bhattacharya, relMartin Kulldorff, Scott Atlas and others are heroes of the COVID period for daring to speak out against government practices that needlessly killed so many, and maimed the lives and futures of tens of millions.

How Stanford Failed the Academic Freedom Test

2023-01-10, by Jay Bhattacharya. Emphasis added.

We live in an age when a high public health bureaucrat can, without irony, announce to the world that if you criticize him, you are not simply criticizing a man. You are criticizing “the science” itself.

The irony in this idea of “science” as a set of sacred doctrines and beliefs is that the Age of Enlightenment, which gave us our modern definitions of scientific methodology, was a reaction against a religious clerisy that claimed for itself the sole ability to distinguish truth from untruth. The COVID-19 pandemic has apparently brought us full circle, with a public health clerisy having replaced the religious one as the singular source of unassailable truth.

The analogy goes further, unfortunately. The same priests of public health that have the authority to distinguish heresy from orthodoxy also cast out heretics, just like the medieval Catholic Church did. Top universities, like Stanford, where I have been both student and professor since 1986, are supposed to protect against such orthodoxies, creating a safe space for scientists to think and to test their ideas. Sadly, Stanford has failed in this crucial aspect of its mission, as I can attest from personal experience.

I should note here that my Stanford roots go way back. I earned two degrees in economics there in 1990. In the ’90s, I earned an M.D. and a Ph.D. in economics. I’ve been a fully tenured professor at Stanford’s world-renowned medical school for nearly 15 years, happily teaching and researching many topics, including infectious disease epidemiology and health policy. If you had asked me in March 2020 whether Stanford had an academic freedom problem in medicine or the sciences, I would have scoffed at the idea. Stanford’s motto (in German) is “the winds of freedom blow,” and I would have told you at the time that Stanford lives up to that motto. I was naive then, but not now.

Academic freedom matters most in the edge cases when a faculty member or student is pursuing an idea that others at the university find inconvenient or objectionable. If Stanford cannot protect academic freedom in these cases, it cannot protect academic freedom at all.

...There is a distinction in philosophy between negative and positive rights. A negative right is a constraint placed on the authorities not to take action that would violate that right... A positive right entails an obligation on authorities to actively promote some desirable state of the world, for instance, the right to protection in the face of dire threats to bodily harm.

...The same distinction pertains to academic freedom at a university. Stanford did not fire me or break my tenure for writing the GBD. Therefore, it met the bare minimum standard of negative academic freedom. But Stanford failed to meet the higher standard of positive academic freedom... The most egregious violation of academic freedom was an implicit decision by the university to deplatform me. Though I have given dozens of talks in seminars at Stanford over the past decades, in December 2020, my department chair blocked an attempt to organize a seminar where I would publicly present the ideas of the GBD...


WIND: naive indeed. Stanford’s fall into the ethical sewer has been obvious to me as a Stanford graduate for 20 years now. And it goes far beyond the school of medicine. I have watched a disturbing series of shifts over the years to an intolerant bigoted intellectual echo chamber.

The only meaning of free speech is the protection of the most offensive, disputed, controversial and even vile and hateful kind. It has no other meaning. This applies to all speech, academic or public, insightful or idiotic. The right to make oneself a pariah by one’s public statements is ostensibly guaranteed by the 1st Amendment; speech after all comes withsocial consequences. But the right to cast others out as pariahs by the use of force is the antithesis of that, and that’s where we stand today—government force, or government supporting such force indirectly through financial and legal cudgels.

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