A Short History of the Great Barrington Declaration
Laura Ingraham on her Fox television show in July 2021 correctly celebrated the re-opening of the US economy, so long as it lasts. She pointed out how preposterous it is that the New York and California governors are taking any credit for handling the crises properly.
What actually drove the opening of the economy, she continued, were the red states of South Dakota, Florida, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, and others. Their governors stepped up and did the right thing in giving citizens their rights.
The experience in these open states, with hospitalizations and deaths dropping after the opening, along with booming economies and a huge influx of new residents, essentially shamed the closed states into taking another direction. As a result, the US as a whole beat most countries in the world in re-opening. Our poor friends in the UK, Canada, and Europe are still under the illusion that they are controlling the virus.
She further pointed out that it was not only the governors. It was business people who protested through letters and sometimes opened their shops in defiance. It was parents who demanded the schools open during impassioned speeches at school-board meetings. It was also brave scientists who dared risk their reputations and professional standing by speaking out for rationality and intelligence.
That latter group is not given nearly enough credit. The reference is to the Great Barrington Declaration that appeared on October 4, 2020. It was this document that had a decisive effect in challenging the lockdown narrative and causing tens of millions to take a second look.
It was one of the proudest moments of my life to be part of its appearance. My experience has convinced me that good ideas — strategically timed and placed — can make a huge difference in the world.
The world locked down in mid-March 2020. There were oblique suggestions coming out of the White House that this disaster could last until August, which I simply could not fathom. Sure enough, by August the lockdowns were not only still in place, but disease panic was everywhere and worse than ever.
I was living in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. The streets were mostly empty. The shops were closed by law. No concerts. No movies. No school. No church. People huddled in their homes in fear. When you did see people at the store, they shuffled like penitents at a medieval burial, covering their bodies in wool, wearing huge masks, gloves, and sometimes even goggles.
By then, I was fully convinced that insanity had been unleashed on the world. This beautiful town — full of highly educated and mostly well-to-do people — had been stricken with a profound psychological malady that prevented them from looking at the data or thinking clearly about much else at all. The one thing on everyone’s mind was avoiding this one pathogen that they could not see. So it was throughout the whole country in various degrees.
In September, I was scrolling through Twitter and bumped into some posts by an epidemiologist at Harvard University. He was writing against lockdowns. I thought, wow, this must be the loneliest man in the world. I dropped him a note and invited him for dinner. He gladly accepted. The next weekend I met the man who would become a great friend over time: Martin Kulldorff.
I invited a few other people in the region who had been writing anti-lockdown posts. We gathered and all became fast friends. In the midst of disease panic, we not only interacted like normal people; we had huge discussions on the pandemic and policy response. All of us learning from Martin about the dynamics of viruses and how to deal with them. The meetings ended up lasting the entire weekend.
Soon after, Martin called me with an idea. The problem, he theorized, is that the mainline journalists out there who are writing about Covid know absolutely nothing about the topic. They, therefore, defaulted to medieval superstition. Let’s have a meeting, he suggested, that includes several scientists, plus journalists so that we can at least provide an alternative. When should this take place? In two weeks.
Sure enough, it all came together. The participating scientists were Martin, plus Jay Bhattacharya from Stanford University and Sunetra Gupta from Oxford University. There were only three journalists, but they were important people. We filmed the event for posterity. It became clear the next day, however, that something else needed to be done.
Following interviews and discussions, Martin suggested that the three scientists draft an open letter. With a mind toward marketing, I told him that open letters always struck me as slightly lame. They seem aggressive just from the naming. It would be better to write a short statement of principles, a declaration of sorts.
He liked the idea. It was his thought that it be called the Great Barrington Declaration after the town of its drafting. My first thought was: There will be some people in this town who will not like this but, whatever, no one has intellectual property in the name of a town.
That evening, it was written. The statement was not radical. It said that SARS-CoV-2 was primarily a threat to the elderly and infirm. Therefore, it is they who need protection. The virus otherwise would be extinguished via herd immunity obtained through exposure, same as any respiratory virus in history. Society should be opened in the interest of a holistic view of public health.
My friend Lou Eastman put together a website, pretty much overnight. The next morning, the interviews began. I’ve never seen anything go so viral, so quickly. The site alone ended up being viewed some 12 million times. Thousands of news stories appeared the world over. Eventually, 850,000 plus people signed the declaration, among which were tens of thousands of scientists and medical practitioners.
Looking back at how and why this happened the way it did, my theory is that the lockdown had frozen debate and speech. Everyone in a position to oppose them had become afraid to speak for fear of shaming. Media was working 24/7 to say that lockdowns were the only option, so anyone against them was a “Covid denier.” It was brutal. It went on for months.
Someone needed to stand up and say the unsayable. That is what these scientists did.
The Great Barrington Declaration changed everything. The negative press backfired. Why would these famous scientists risk everything to write this Declaration if there was not some truth in what they said? Among those who were interested was Ron DeSantis who had already opened the state of Florida to great howls of media protest. He eventually invited the scientists to a public forum to reach the entire nation.
The rest unfolded as if scripted by a great novel. The good sense of the Declaration gradually overwhelmed the nonsense idea that destroying markets and society was good for health. The document came to be translated to dozens of languages, and the signatures poured in. The smears got worse by the day. Even the town council jumped into the fray and denounced the document. Wild times indeed.
Still, the effect was realized. The openings cascaded through the country, slowly at first and then faster and then all at once. I rarely see the Great Barrington Declaration credited for this, but I know the truth. I was there with a front-row seat at a great philosophical theater. I saw how a simple idea can change the world.
The pain of these days was unforgettable. I felt it, certainly. I can only imagine what it must have been like for the scientists. A lesson I took away from this is that if you really want to make a difference in the world, you have to be prepared for a long battle and more suffering than one might expect.
Several times per week now, I see these scientists interviewed on television, mostly on Fox but now they are appearing elsewhere as famous experts in disease and public health. They cannot keep up with the interviews. They are quoted in many mainstream venues, sometimes as prophets. Even their academic institutions are now taking credit for their wonderful work.
It’s hard not to be cynical when you see the world shift from stoning people to celebrating these same people once they are proven right. It’s an old story from history, one we are often told but it’s rare to watch this unfold in real time — especially in times when people pride themselves in their attachment to science. It’s not true: I’m no longer sure that the human mind has progressed that much over several millennia.
Only DeSantis has openly admitted that it was a mistake that Florida ever shut down. The rest just pretend that they made the right decisions all along. Their duplicity is manifest. For this reason, lockdowns continue to threaten us. Not until we come to terms with the disastrous decisions that were made in 2020 will basic liberties and public health be safe from managerial central plans that imagine that society can be manipulated like an engineering project in a lab.
That is a teachable moment for all of us. There is every reason to distrust the political establishment. Trust instead those who are willing to risk everything to say what they know to be true.