Cornell's New Dean, Bob Harrington, Asked Jay Bhattacharya & Eran Bendavid to stop talking to the press about COVID policy, per B's account
The Death of Academic Freedom at Stanford
I released this on my own substack, but honestly think the readers of Sensible Medicine should know this. If your chair tells you to not talk to the press, the chair should be fired.
I was recently reading Jay Bhattacharya’s first person account of his treatment at Stanford— the vicious disputes about lockdown in the Spring of 2020— and this jumped out at me. It concerns Bob Harrington, the chair of Medicine at Stanford, and now Dean at Cornell. Eran Bendavid is a junior faculty member at Stanford.
But that wasn’t the only reference to Harrington
And this one
Let’s rewind history.
The Spring of 2020 was a hysterical time. The initial WHO report claimed COVID had a case fatality rate (CFR) of 3.4%, which was frightening, but the IFR (infection fatality rate), particularly in young, healthy people was unknown. (The general idea of why CFR much higher than IFR is that many people are not in CFR denominator b/c of v mild symptoms)
If the IFR was low, you could argue that lockdown of the young was unjustified. If the IFR was high, you could still argue that lockdown would do more harm than good. This point was lost in the heat of the battle, where the IFR became a proxy for whether or not lockdown was a good idea, but it never was. Irrespective of the IFR, lockdown was likely a fools’ errand.
Lockdown was notably not part of pre-pandemic playbooks. DA Henderson himself was critical of this idea. It was thought antithetical to the values of free society, and Sweden notably engaged in protective measures without resorting to the worst excesses of lockdown strategy. The policy on lockdown was reversed by Fauci and Brix and largely because they took inspiration from the oppressive Chinese regime. These two leaders failed immensely.
It was clear that Jay Bhattacharya and others were intensely critical of lockdowns. Eran Bendavid likely was— but his views are not fully articulated— and eventually he went silent. (probably because his chair was harassing him). Yet in the Spring 2020, Jay, Eran and others investigated the IFR to bolster their argument against lockdown.
Against this background, came the Santa Clara seroprevalance study. I personally think it was a valiant attempt, but not perfect. The real question was why the CDC with their 40,000 employees were not running the same analysis at 20 cities every week, and why random faculty had to do it. This was yet another CDC failure.
The IFR was low— and now broadly compatible with other estimates. Naturally, the many faculty around the counter who were panicking worried that a low IFR might jeopardize lockdown and fought the paper tooth and nail. Hence the debates.
Consider the role of universities in the Spring of 2020. If they wanted to be useful they would have held a series of debates about what we were doing.
School closures, shutting down playgrounds, banning people on beaches, business closure, lockdowns, masking.—— all could have had a series of Stanford debates.
Yet, no university did this. Not a single university had the courage to debate policy. The leaders were scared to host debates. Scared of the mob response. Scared to disagree with Anthony Fauci, who was a fallible old man.
Now consider that Eran Bendavid and Jay had chosen to enter the fray. Jay is a full professor with tenure. Eran is a junior faculty. They were both honestly pursing the policy they thought was best.
Then, Bob Harrington the chair essentially tells them to stay quiet. Why? Because people complain to him. Jay doesn’t go quiet. He is old enough to not give a fuck. But Eran does eventually go entirely quiet. Mission 1/2 accomplished.
Being repeatedly emailed about your work by the Chair, and criticized for “generating a scientific scoop” or “expressing concerns” even when the Chair doesn’t explicitly tell you to stop talking, is a type of intimidation meant to silence faculty. But when he follows up with a request to stop talking to the press, he has failed in his one true purpose as Chair to protect and defend academic discourse.
I find this disgraceful. I feel bad for Cornell. I would not want to be a faculty member there. A few more thoughts….
Of course, administrators who don’t stand up for academic freedom are rewarded. A class of faculty of career bureaucrats has taken over most universities. The primary goals are buying or merging with local medical centers, and public private partnerships. Universities do not serve their societal role of promoting discourse and debate, and shielding faculty with views that may initially be unpopular, but ultimately vindicated (like Jay and Eran)
If universities refuse to defend academic freedom, they should be taxed like any other corporation whose mission is to grow their revenue.
What happened during the first years of COVID19 is not settled history; many of us know a a lot about behind the scenes actions. It will take a few decades to set the record straight. Ultimately, I have little doubt that lockdown, school closure, masking kids, and vaccine mandates will be viewed like the Iraq war— a colossal, self inflicted wound made by people who were scared and shouted down the reasonable voices.
Any Chair who tells his faculty to stop talking to the press at a time of massive dispute and unprecedented policy should be not be Dean. If you agree, write to Cornell’s president and board.