Indian-origin Stanford University professor Jay Bhattacharya appeared on Fox News 33 times in 2021 alone. At the peak of the pandemic, he was a fixture on Tucker Carlson’s show amplifying conspiracy theories linking Covid to China’s biological weapons research programme, disparaging the lockdown and vaccines, and attacking the United States of America’s chief medical advisor Dr Anthony Fauci. In a March 2020 Wall Street Journal op-ed, he claimed that the coronavirus was not deadly and that there was no evidence to support quarantines or distancing. It was small wonder, then, that he found himself shadow-banned on Twitter, barely a year after he joined the platform.
When Elon Musk released his “Twitter files,” which outlined how earlier management considered moderating unsafe content, journalist Bari Weiss tweeted out that Jay Bhattacharya had been shadow banned, preventing his tweets from featuring as a trending topic on Twitter’s front page.
Shortly after this, Bhattacharya, a senior fellow at Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, visited the Twitter headquarters upon personal invitation from Elon Musk, and the duo discussed how “one side of the conversation wasn’t being heard” on Twitter.
Fan and patron of the Right
Bhattacharya, along with Swedish biostatistician and former professor at Harvard Medical School, Martin Kulldorff and Oxford professor of theoretical epidemiology Sunetra Gupta, authored the infamous Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) in October 2020, which made a case for easing all Covid restrictions before an effective vaccine could be produced, while embracing the concept of natural herd immunity.
The declaration was praised by former American President Donald Trump’s pandemic team member Scott Atlas, and embraced by anti-vaccine proponents. Meanwhile, public health expert and WHO’s director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus panned it for being unethical and chief medical advisor to the US president Anthony Fauci called it “total nonsense” and “very dangerous”. It elicited similar criticism from health experts, epidemiologists, doctors, scientists, virologists, researchers, and the general scientific community.
Bhattacharya has not taken the Twitter shadow ban well. He has appeared in multiple interviews questioning censorship by social media companies.
“What is stopping Dr Jay from authoring a paper with his conclusions, reasonings, data for the same including suggestions and publishing it in a scientific journal and leaving it out there for the entire scientific community to comment either in the form of comments or counter publications? With his credentials, publication would have been so much easier,” said a health policy expert who did not want to be named.
Today, Bhattacharya is a fan and patron of the American Right, appearing in segments with the Fox News host Tucker Carlson advocating against lockdowns, as well as amplifying conspiracy theories that the coronavirus pandemic was tied to China’s biological weapons research program.
.@DrJBhattacharya Joins Tucker Carlson To Discuss How Twitter Placed Him On A Blacklist For Criticizing The Lockdowns
"They wanted to create this illusion of consensus about the science that didn't actually exist."
"People suffered as a consequence of this censorship." pic.twitter.com/5PhZs4gcGT
— The Columbia Bugle 🇺🇸 (@ColumbiaBugle) December 16, 2022
He continues to advocate for herd immunity, despite his much-touted Swedish model resulting in an unnatural number of deaths. He also pushes the disproven theory that children are immune to Covid. Bhattacharya continues to argue against mask mandates and claims that physical distancing in the form of lockdowns was unnecessary despite the advantage of hindsight.
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Jayanta Bhattacharya was born in 1968 in Kolkata. He has obtained four degrees from Stanford University: A Bachelor of Arts, a Master of Arts, an MD from the School of Medicine, and a PhD from the Dept of Economics (2000). He has since continued at the university, and is currently a professor at the school of medicine. He is also a professor by courtesy (contributing professor) at the department of economics, department of health research and policy, and a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Economic Policy and Research.
He has also been an economist at the American think tank RAND Corporation and a fellow at the right-wing Hoover Institution at Stanford, with which Atlas is also associated with.
Bhattacharya came to global prominence with his WSJ op-ed in March of 2020 claiming that coronavirus was not deadly and that there was no evidence to support quarantines or distancing. He was a lead author on the now-infamous serology study from Santa Clara, California, which claimed that over 80,000 people had already been infected and drew heavy flak from experts for its flawed methodology.
The study discouraged distancing and quarantine, and encouraged travel. It was revealed later by an anonymous whistle-blower that the study had been funded by the airline company JetBlue, which the authors had not disclosed.
A year into the pandemic, Bhattacharya co-authored an op-ed for ThePrint, where he claimed that vaccinating Indians could potentially be dangerous as Indians could have a “natural” immunity to Covid. His statements were shortly followed by a deadly wave in India, leading to an official death toll of 4,00,000 but an estimated death count at least 10 times that number.
Bhattacharya has served as an expert witness in many court cases in the US, where he has opposed vaccines and mask mandates. Multiple judges in these hearings have pointed out errors in his testimony and statements, as well as contradictions by evidence including from his own sources.
Stanford's Jay Bhattacharya has served as an expert witness in many cases opposing mask mandates and other Covid restrictions. Multiple judges have pointed to major flaws in his testimony. A thread.
— Mallory Harris (away) (@malar0ne) October 24, 2021
He has called mass testing an “an insidious form of lockdown by stealth.”
His work on GBD and the declaration itself elicited the strongest response from the scientific community.
GBD was not a scientific study, but is instead a statement that emphasises on herd immunity and claims that Covid is less harmful to children than the flu—statements which the group continues to emphasise on despite them having proven demonstrably false.
A health policy expert agreed that from a holistic point of view, the impact of lockdowns and other outcomes listed in the declaration were well-founded.
” Despite being driven by valid and realistic concerns, the authors jumped to premature conclusions and offered solutions too early into the pandemic. It was with a huge disregard to the realistic limitations of health systems across the globe in responding to the sheer number of infections,” they said.
“Dr. Bhattacharya chose to forego scientific mode of communication and scientific platforms, and he still chooses to do the same. Since Dr. Jay chose social media as a platform rather than scientific mode of communication, his self-victimisation and claims that his voice was suppressed do not sound genuine, ” they added.
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Climate denialism, Anti-vaccine, big tobacco funding
The GBD is funded by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), a far-Right think tank that is associated with climate change denial, invests in fossil fuel and tobacco, and receives massive investments from the Charles Koch Institute, and which has funded many Covid disinformation campaigns.
It was conceptualised and then built and marketed by the Brownstone Institute, which its founder Jeffrey A Tucker, describes as a “spiritual child of Great Barrington Declaration.”
Tucker has platformed anti-vaccine views stating that vaccines were “a technology not proven safe and effective. ”Other fellows and senior members of AIER have been known to spread anti-vaccine conspiracy theories as well.
Senior Visiting Fellow of AIER and author Naomi Wolf was suspended from Twitter at one point for tweeting to her 1,40,000 followers that vaccines are software platforms that can be updated remotely. She also wrote that sewage waste from vaccinated people should be separated until tests could be done on the drinking water of unvaccinated people.
Scott Atlas, neuroradiologist and the Trump administration’s coronavirus advisor who also contributes regularly to AIER, tweeted that masks do not work. Paul Alexander, Brownstone Institute Fellow and former Trump advisor, had called for the hanging and public execution of Covid scientists.
Bhattacharya has also been a proponent of Ivermectin, a veterinary deworming drug, despite FDA and its drugmaker Merck’s warnings about it. He advised it to the Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, who has recently made unsubstantiated claims about Covid vaccines calling for investigations.
Those affiliated with GBD and Bhattacharya are especially against Anthony Fauci. Kulldorff has compared “Faucism” with fascism, Bhattacharya has called him “America’s top anti-vaxxer” and Naomi Wolf has compared him to Satan.
Also read: Google launches anti-misinformation project in India to prevent violence
GBD-based policies resulted in high death rates
The declaration, which was signed in the Great Barrington town of Massachusetts, a town that has since distanced itself from the declaration asks only the elderly and vulnerable to take precaution against the coronavirus, while encouraging younger people to contract the virus and obtain natural immunity. Such a strategy is completely unscientific and impractical, experts have argued from the beginning of the pandemic.
It has also been criticised for its focus on high income countries while ignoring much of low and middle-income countries and the Global South. It was discussed with former Trump officials Alex Azar and Scott Atlas, and publicised on Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show. The initial declaration was signed by 35 scientists, but Bhattacharya and others claimed that “thousands of scientists” had signed it.
Many investigators found that anyone could sign the declaration and simply had to check a box to mark if they were a scientist. Tucker and other authors have not clarified how they vet signatures.
Influences of GBD and the opinions of those who authored it can be seen in Trump’s American administration pandemic response, Boris Johnson’s British administration in UK and former Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven’s administration. All three countries are far ahead of nations like India in Covid deaths per million. Swedish health activists have called for Martin Kulldorff, face of Sweden’s no-lockdown policy Anders Tegnell, physicians Johan Giesecke, Jonas Ludvigsson, and public health agency head Johan Carlson, all signatories of the declaration or Swedish public health officials during peak Covid, to be indicted for crimes against humanity.
ThePrint has reached out to Bhattacharya and Stanford University, and the story will be updated with their response.