Intermezzo Guest Blog: Update on Afghanistan

As Biden’s humanitarian and military crisis in Afghanistan proceeds, friends in Afghanistan are trying desperately to find a way out of the country, mostly over land into neighboring countries.  Imagine thinking “escaping to Iran” would be an attractive option!

In spite of the small number of Afghani Christians, missions agencies report that for several years Afghanistan has had the fastest growing population of Christ-followers, second only to Iran.  This story is from the son of an imam who hated Christians when he was 17, but found out that Christians were offering peace and life while the Muslims of whom he was part were threatening him with death for simply reading the Bible.  The following is a transcript from a Christianity Today podcast called Quick To Listen.  Good reading and information in Christianity Today.
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‘My Heart Is Broken’: An Afghan Pastor Grapples with the US Withdrawal
America’s departure and the Taliban’s ascent is forcing Christians out of the country.
Morgan Lee, August 20, 2021

2021-08-23 Taliban in KabulTaliban patrolling Kabul, Afghanistan, Monday, Aug. 16, 2021.

Earlier this year, President Joe Biden announced that after close to 20 years, the United States would be withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan. Last week, as the military began its exit, the Taliban was ready and within days had seized control of the country. The ascent sparked widespread fear and led to thousands arriving at the airport only to find their flights out of the country had been canceled. Some even grabbed hold of an aircraft in desperation.

Biden defended the decision, arguing that Afghanistan’s leaders “gave up and fled the country.” He also said: “The Afghan military collapsed, sometimes without trying to fight. If anything, the developments in the past week reinforced ending that US military involvement Afghanistan now was the right decision.”

He did concede: “The truth is, this did unfold more quickly than we had anticipated.” As the government fell, it was not clear if the US had done anything to protect those who had worked with the military as translators. Plans to resettle Afghans as refugees seemed to be formulated in real time. The rights of women and girls, which were suppressed under the Taliban’s previous time in power, also appeared in jeopardy. And the lives of Christians, who according to official numbers only make up a minuscule number of the country’s nearly 40 million people, seem in peril as well.

David Paiman is an Afghan pastor and evangelist. You can follow his ministry herePaiman joined global media manager Morgan Lee and news editor Daniel Silliman to discuss how he converted from Islam to Christianity, the withdrawal’s consequences for the church in Afghanistan, and how we can best support the country and people during this time.

The transcript is edited by Faith Ndlovu

Highlights from Quick to Listen: Episode #277

David Paiman: Thank you for your concern about Afghanistan. We are grieving and our hearts are heavy. We see the news that Afghanistan is blaring and everywhere in the street, we can see hopeless people are left behind. But we see the reality more when we talk to people inside Afghanistan.

I’ve been talking to many believers inside Afghanistan. They are crying out for help, and they are crying out for the American army, and some of them sent me a video of many women and girls.

They have been to the airport and they’re crying out to American soldiers to help them. They have been there to serve them and help them but that is over. What we are seeing is too much and my heart is broken.

We are here in America, we see what we see on Twitter or television, but generally speaking, what do you find that Americans don’t know about Afghanistan that you really want them to know? What do they maybe misunderstand about what they do know?

David Paiman: Americans should know about Afghan believers, those who have converted to Christianity. Their lives are in danger, especially for people who are registered as Christians in Afghanistan. There are about many families there and they already got their identity. Many other Afghan believers only registered but they don’t have their identity cards yet; it’s still being processed. Suddenly everything has turned in a different way and they are in desperate need of help. Many people just heard the Taliban say very good news using soft words to say, “we forgive everyone, and we will do our best to build the country.” That’s not the truth. The truth we heard from inside is that they are going from house to house to search for people. They have been to many Afghan believers’ houses, and they took their Bibles. Praise God that the Afghan believers were not at their home. But they’re still searching for them.

Did President Ghani’s government require Christians to register?

David Paiman: They were not required to register, but they registered for the next generation. They don’t want their children to be called Muslims, they want their identity to be Christian.

Is your religion something that is printed on your ID cards?

David Paiman: Yes. But what the system did, because they don’t like Christians, when they printed out the cards for Christians they print out “other.” If they print out “Christian,” they face trouble with their own family, they cannot go to the bank, they cannot get a license, they cannot get anything. In reality they are Christian but they print out “other,” not Christian.

So, this was a big step historically for people to start declaring themselves in this official way, that they’re Christian and making public their faith, sometimes at great risk.

Afghanistan is a big country. Was this happening in Kabul? Was this happening in the villages? Where were these Christians deciding to take the stand?

David Paiman: All the Christians that registered are in Kabul. Today I heard the news, which I hope is false news. But I heard that three Christian families were taken by the Taliban and their houses were burned. We don’t know where they are, but I’m not sure yet that that is exactly what’s going on there.

There are very few Christians that live in this country. How did people end up hearing the gospel?

David Paiman: There are a lot of Christians during these two, three years. I am in media and get many calls every day, at least 10 calls from Afghanistan.

They want to receive Christ. Many house churches inside Afghanistan have started sharing the gospel with each other. Some families have been openly sharing the gospel with people and others heard from media, from Facebook, YouTube, and TV. But whenever they receive Christ, we try to connect them with them to get discipled and to grow in Christ, inside Afghanistan.

Take us back to 2001 when America invaded, what was that like for you? What was that like for Christians in the country?

David Paiman: Yeah, that’s what I call false hope. I will never forget in 2001 when the American army came and took over, everyone was celebrating, everyone got freedom and people were praising and thankful to America. Exactly 20 years later we see what’s happening now.

Where were you living at that time?

David Paiman: I was in Saudi Arabia.

With the hope that you experienced, what did you think might happen?

David Paiman: The real hope is Jesus Christ. Afghanistan has been trying many ways to get hope, to get peace inside Afghanistan, but they did not try Jesus Christ. They did not try God. They did not try His love and His mercy. My prayer and zeal are to share Christ with them. They can receive Christ and they can get the real hope, the living hope that never ends.

How old were you back in 2001?

David Paiman: I was about 17 years old.

What did you hear about the American military during that time?

David Paiman: I was very excited because I was a Muslim from Hazara tribes. My tribe experienced the pressure of the Taliban, because mostly Hazara from Shiá Muslim and all Taliban from Sunni Muslim. I saw many Hazara killed by the Taliban in those times and when America came in 2001, I was so excited that we got freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of everything that we could practice in Afghanistan.

Did that happen when the US first showed up in the first year or two?

David Paiman: From 2001 to 2006 it was good. From 2006 to 2010 it changed a little. From 2010 to 2021 it was not a good situation in Afghanistan as well because the government was corrupt. However, America helped the Afghanistan government, the Afghanistan government did not do what they were supposed to do. I don’t want to go into politics. I’m angry with Joe Biden because he said Afghanistan was not willing to take care of their country, yet billions of dollars have been used to help them.

It’s painful that many Afghanistans leave it behind and now we see that Afghanistan is bleeding and people are crying out for help, but it’s because they don’t take care of their own country.

Talking about the issue of women and girls, how did you notice how they were treated before the Americans arrived?

David Paiman: The girls could not go to school and the women could not go out without any man and there was trouble. Now Taliban is a little bit different, but this morning I heard the news that the girls and the women cannot go out without any men. I don’t know what to say about the Taliban 20 years ago and now, I don’t think they have changed. It’s still the same, the Sharia never changes.

But under the past 20 years though, you saw girls going to school, which was not happening under the Taliban. And you saw way more women working?

David Paiman: Yeah exactly.

Did you have any women who were leading churches or doing evangelism, or did they show up in church leadership too?

David Paiman: Yes, my sister-in-law, who is leading a house church there under the men’s leadership. She tries to help other women, does Bible study with them, and leads them woman to woman and men to men; under the men’s leadership which is what the Bible says.

Now the fear is that the schools that were open to girls are going to be closed and as you said, women may not be able to leave the house without men?

David Paiman: Yes. They cannot leave the house without the men. A few schools are open, but only girls under 14 years can go to school. We don’t know yet about college. In Herat city last week, the girls were supposed to go to college, but the Taliban stopped them.

You mentioned that in 2001 you were a Muslim. How did Jesus find you?

David Paiman: I didn’t want to come to the faith. I hated Christians and didn’t want to be one because I’m from a very religious Muslim background.

My father was an imam. They taught me how to be a good Muslim. I have been to Mecca six times, and I practiced my religion very well because I thought the Muslim religion is the only religion, the only way to God. But after my sixth pilgrimage to Mecca, a stranger came to me from Syria and he shared his testimony, how he received Christ inside the Mecca, how he saw the vision of Christ during his pilgrimage in Mecca. That made me get angry with him. I tried to fight with him. I wanted to kill him. But after 45 minutes of our conversation, he asked me, “Would you please let me pray for you?”

I was very proud. I said, “Okay, you pray for me. I will pray for you.” When he started to pray, I closed my eyes to listen to him and it seemed that he knew my problem. He knew my heart. He knew that I’m searching for real peace and that prayer led me to Christ. After he finished his prayer, the big questions came to my mind.

I said, “If he is an infidel, how could he know my heart?” He then gave me a New Testament Bible. I read but I didn’t accept it because my father taught me that the Bible is corrupt.

Six months later I went to Afghanistan, and I shared this experience with my best friend. He then gave me a Bible in my language. He said not to worry about the New Testament I should just start from Genesis. When I started reading from Genesis, I knew inside my heart that something is true here because God Himself is reaching humans, to bring them back to Him. It was so clear to me that this is God Himself wanting human beings to come to Him. I then took the Bible from him.

I started to read the Bible in my city Ghazni, which is about 250 kilometers from Kabul, and I started comparing the Bible and Quran. With two of my friends, every day we started comparing the Bible and the Koran to try to find which part of the Bible is corrupt.

While I was still reading the Bible, I was still a Muslim practicing Muslim, and I got caught by the police because somebody reported that I was reading the Bible. They took the Bible from me. I found myself in the mosque and there were about 60 or 70 people there and they started asking me why I was reading the Bible. I argued with the imam and started asking him a question from the Quran himself, he could not answer me. He started a claim that he proved that I was a Christian. I was not a Christian. I was Muslim. I did not want to become a Christian.

They started beating me until I became unconscious. I then found myself in a police station. I gave them a lot of money and then I ran away from the police station. I went to Kabul. I was hiding in a safety house, which had a lot of Americans.

A lady from Canada who was a missionary helped me to escape from my country to India. I didn’t know she was a missionary at that time. In India, I met Afghan Christians and I was very angry with them. I started to fight with them. One of the guys I fought with is now inside Afghanistan and is sharing the gospel there.

Three months later, one of my friends had epilepsy. I called the pastor and his friend, and they came and prayed for my friend who had epilepsy. At that moment he got healed and I saw the power, actually, I felt the power. I knew then there was power in the name of Jesus. I went to the bathroom, and I received Christ and asked Him to come into my life and I received Him. I gave my life to Christ in 2008.

Why did you go to the bathroom?

David Paiman: Because I didn’t want to receive Christ in front of them because I didn’t want to become a Christian.

I didn’t want them to know that I am receiving Christ. I wanted to receive Christ very secretly.

How did that practically change your life in 2008?

David Paiman: On that night after I came out from the bathroom and had washed my face as I had been crying, I proceeded to make tea for my guests and the pastor knew something had happened to me. After the tea service, the pastor came to me and asked if he could pray for me.

I said, “of course.” He put his hand on my shoulder and started to pray. I started to cry and confess my sin. The next day everything changed. I felt different. I talked differently and everything changed in my life. I saw things differently. I could see people differently and I started sharing the gospel the next day, right away.

I started sharing the gospel with people. I told them only Jesus could save their lives. Only Jesus can give you peace only Jesus can give you hope.

When you started telling people did anyone believe you? Did anyone decide to learn more about Christianity?

David Paiman: At first believers didn’t believe me because I had been persecuting them.

They thought maybe I had come from the Afghan government because I had a very close friendship with the embassy. They thought maybe I was a spy from them. But later on, they believed me.

But yeah. I saw many people come to Christ in India. I received Christ in India in 2008.

And then you started telling people in India for many years?

David Paiman: Yes. I was in India for five and a half years, and then I moved to Indonesia. I was in Indonesia for three years.

We started house churches there and then we baptized about 72 Iranian people. During those three years, 17 Afghan Muslims converted to Christ, and we baptized them. In 2015, I moved to Australia. I started an Afghan church in Sydney, Australia till 2019.

In 2019, I moved here and now we have a ministry. We are helping refugees and we started our house church here in Memphis, Tennessee.

What do you find about God or Jesus resonates with Afghans? What do they love about Christianity?

David Paiman: I heard many people like my friends, especially here saying they see the reality of love in Christian life.

They love you unconditionally. They don’t expect you to do something. They love you just as you are. In Afghan culture when you love some people you expect them to love you back but many of them say they see true love here in American people and Christian people.

That love has now opened the door for us. We can share the gospel with our Afghan friends here.

What’s your sense of what American Christians should be doing out of love right now?

David Paiman: For me, all Christians should practice at least two things, go, and give. If you cannot go, you should give. If you’re a believer, you have to share the gospel, go, or give, giving and supporting it’s all the one part. Christians in America can also pray and help financially. Send them food to eat. This morning I talked to one leader and he’s ready to go to Christ and what he asked me was, “after I go will you please take care of my family.”

He shared Philippians 1:20 (Phil 2:20) which says, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He said, “to die, I get my life. I start my life with Christ” and that encouraged me. The only thing for me is the burden of his family. He has given his life to Christ.

I have a burden in my heart to take care of his family and it’s the burden for all Christians in America and to cry out to God and pray for them. If you know people in Afghanistan help them out of Afghanistan. That’s the greatest help.

So, you would say American Christians should also support welcoming thousands of refugees here.

David Paiman: Exactly.

What type of long-term impact do you think that the withdrawal will have on the mission field in Afghanistan?

David Paiman: To help Afghan believers inside of Afghanistan. The missionary can easily come out of Afghanistan, but Afghanistans are left behind.

If they are discipled well, they can share the gospel inside Afghanistan. That for me is long-term, helping Afghan Christians inside Afghanistan. It should start from inside of Afghanistan not from outside Afghanistan, that’s my opinion.

Because now Afghans will be leading these churches, not foreigners?

David Paiman: No, Afghans should start leading the church. They should start discipling people and that’s all Afghans are doing now.

How do the Christians that you meet find Christianity? Who tells them about it?

David Paiman: It’s mostly from media, from Facebook, YouTube, radio, TV, those are the four sources that we have inside Afghanistan. Now it’s not too difficult we can give them the bible. When they’re sleeping in the bed, they can hear the gospel, and no one can stop that.

This past week has been demoralizing. How has it affected your faith in God?

David Paiman: Whenever I talk to believers inside Afghanistan, I find that their faith is very big and mine is very low, and they give their life to Christ. Jesus said, “if you don’t take your cross, you are not worthy to follow Me, if you don’t confess Me in front of people, I will not confess you in front of My Father. That’s exactly what they are doing now. They took their cross willingly and they tried to come under the grace of God, joyfully give their life to Jesus.

Daniel Silliman: Yeah. That’s compelling, that’s what we all believe as Christians and that’s our call daily to take up our cross and the challenges that they’re facing are serious. Thanks for sharing that with us.

David Paiman: The other thing that American believers and Americans should know is this word about the church. In Afghanistan, people know they are the church, and they understand that. But here, mostly most of America, they say the building is a church. There is a building with a cross on it that’s what they call church but, in Afghanistan, the real church is going on.

I’m so encouraged by their ministry.

What are you praying for as you speak to people back in Afghanistan and Afghans here?

David Paiman: To be honest in the first two, three days, I didn’t know how to pray, and I could not pray because my heart was so heavy and when I saw the news, I was so upset with Americans, I was so upset with the missionaries. I was so angry and that’s my human nature. I could not pray but praise God when I talked to them, they encouraged me. They said, “Jesus is with us now.” Now my prayer for Afghanistans, especially for believers is for the grace of God to be always over them because they cannot do anything out of the grace of God. With the grace of God, they can do all things. That’s my prayer.

As we close our conversation, is there anything else that you would like our listeners to know, any information you’ve heard from your friends and family back in Afghanistan that you want to share, or anything we didn’t ask you about?

David Paiman: Yeah, please pray for believers. They are leaving the country, especially pray for two families who just arrived in Pakistan, three families that are in Iran now, and four families that are in Tajikistan. Please pray for them and specifically pray for four families inside Afghanistan. I think I already mentioned their life is seriously in danger.

In their new countries, what should we pray for them, that they get connected to a church community and build their lives someplace new?

David Paiman: Yes, we are praying for them to make contact with other believers at churches and their second countries. Pray for us here that we can make decisions wisely and that we don’t give them false hope or false promises.

Would you be willing to end our show in a word of prayer?

David Paiman: Sure.
Dear Father. You are a good father. I know you know everything about my country. You love my people. You love the Taliban. You love even the people persecuting us. Lord. You command us to love them back. Please help Afghan Christians, especially those inside the country to love them and share your words with them. Lord, I pray for your protection over believers inside Afghanistan I pray for my people, they’re hopeless. They just see the darkness. Lord, I pray that your light will shine on them. Open their minds and their hearts to see you and to see that you love them to see that You died for them. Lord, open their eyes so that they can taste and see that you are a good God.

You are a merciful, God. Lord, I pray for the American army in Afghanistan. I pray that you protect them from evil. Help them, give them the wisdom to choose the right people, and bring them out. Lord, I also pray for my brothers and sisters outside Afghanistan. I pray for the churches. Thank you for my spiritual family here, Lord, they encourage us. Lord. I pray that you give them wisdom and knowledge to help us in Your way, not in their way. Thank you, Lord, in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Intermezzo Guest Blog: Science, Politics, and COVID: Will Truth Prevail?

This is a rather lengthy guest blog, over 3000 words, compared to my usual blogs of about 1000, but Dr. Atlas is well worth a little extra time to read.
by Dr. Scott W. Atlas, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University
The following is adapted from a speech delivered on February 18, 2021, at a Hillsdale College National Leadership Seminar in Phoenix, Arizona.

Corona VirusThe COVID pandemic has been a tragedy, no doubt. But it has exposed profound issues in America that threaten the principles of freedom and order that we Americans often take for granted.

First, I have been shocked at the unprecedented exertion of power by the government since last March — issuing unilateral decrees, ordering the closure of businesses, churches, and schools, restricting personal movement, mandating behavior, and suspending indefinitely basic freedoms. Second, I was and remain stunned — almost frightened — at the acquiescence of the American people to such destructive, arbitrary, and wholly unscientific rules, restrictions, and mandates.

The pandemic also brought to the forefront things we have known existed and have tolerated for years: media bias, the decline of academic freedom on campuses, the heavy hand of Big Tech, and — now more obviously than ever — the politicization of science. Ultimately, the freedom of Americans to seek and state what they believe to be the truth is at risk.

Let me say at the outset that I, like all of us, acknowledge that the consequences of the COVID pandemic and its management have been enormous. Over 500,000 American deaths have been attributed to the virus; more will follow. Even after almost a year, the pandemic still paralyzes our country. And despite all efforts, there has been an undeniable failure to stop cases from escalating and to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.

But there is also an unacknowledged reality: almost every state and major city in the U.S., with a handful of exceptions, have implemented severe restrictions for many months, including closures of businesses and in-person schools, mobility restrictions and curfews, quarantines, limits on group gatherings, and mask mandates dating back to at least last summer. And despite any myths to the contrary, social mobility tracking of Americans and data from Gallup, YouGov, the COVID-19 Consortium, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have all shown significant reductions of movement as well as a consistently high percentage of mask-wearing since the late summer, similar to the extent seen in Western Europe and approaching the extent seen in Asia.

With what results?
All legitimate policy scholars today should be reexamining the policies that have severely harmed America’s children and families, while failing to save the elderly. Numerous studies, including one from Stanford University’s infectious disease scientists and epidemiologists Benavid, Oh, Bhattacharya, and Ioannides have shown that the mitigating impact of the extraordinary measures used in almost every state was small at best — and usually harmful. President Biden himself openly admitted the lack of efficacy of these measures in his January 22 speech to the nation: “There is nothing we can do,” he said, “to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.”

Bizarrely, though, many want to blame those who opposed lockdowns and mandates for the failure of the very lockdowns and mandates that were widely implemented.

Besides their limited value in containing the virus, lockdown policies have been extraordinarily harmful. The harms to children of suspending in-person schooling are dramatic, including poor learning, school dropouts, social isolation, and suicidal ideation, most of which are far worse for lower income groups. A recent study confirms that up to 78 percent of cancers were never detected due to missed screening over a three-month period. If one extrapolates to the entire country, 750,000 to over a million new cancer cases over a nine-month period will have gone undetected. That health disaster adds to missed critical surgeries, delayed presentations of pediatric illnesses, heart attack and stroke patients too afraid to go to the hospital, and others — all well documented.

Beyond hospital care, the CDC reported four-fold increases in depression, three-fold increases in anxiety symptoms, and a doubling of suicidal ideation, particularly among young adults after the first few months of lockdowns, echoing American Medical Association reports of drug overdoses and suicides. Domestic and child abuse have been skyrocketing due to the isolation and loss of jobs. Given that many schools have been closed, hundreds of thousands of abuse cases have gone unreported, since schools are commonly where abuse is noticed. Finally, the unemployment shock from lockdowns, according to a recent National Bureau of Economic Research study, will generate a three percent increase in the mortality rate and a 0.5 percent drop in life expectancy over the next 15 years, disproportionately affecting African-Americans and women. That translates into what the study refers to as a “staggering” 890,000 additional U.S. deaths.

We know we have not yet seen the full extent of the damage from the lockdowns, because the effects will continue to be felt for decades. Perhaps that is why lockdowns were not recommended in previous pandemic response analyses, even for diseases with far higher death rates.

To determine the best path forward, shouldn’t policymakers objectively consider the impact both of the virus and of anti-virus policies to date? This points to the importance of health policy, my own particular field, which requires a broader scope than that of epidemiologists and basic scientists. In the case of COVID, it requires taking into account the fact that lockdowns and other significant restrictions on individuals have been extraordinarily harmful — even deadly — especially for the working class and the poor.

“There is a land full of wonder, mystery, and danger. Some say, to survive it, you need to be as mad as a hatter. Which, luckily, I am.” — Mad Hatter
Optimistically, we should be seeing the light at the end of the long tunnel with the rollout of vaccines, now being administered at a rate of one million to 1.5 million per day. On the other hand, using logic that would appeal to Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter, in many states the vaccines were initially administered more frequently to healthier and younger people than to those at greatest risk from the virus. The argument was made that children should be among the first to be vaccinated, although children are at extremely low risk from the virus and are proven not to be significant spreaders to adults. Likewise, we heard the Kafka-esque idea promoted that teachers must be vaccinated before teaching in person, when schools are one of the lowest risk environments and the vast majority of teachers are not high risk.

Worse, we hear so-called experts on TV warning that social distancing, masks, and other restrictions will still be necessary after people are vaccinated! All indications are that those in power have no intention of allowing Americans to live normally — which for Americans means to live freely — again.

And sadly, just as in Galileo’s time, the root of our problem lies in “the experts” and vested academic interests. At many universities — which are supposed to be America’s centers for critical thinking — those with views contrary to those of “the experts” currently in power find themselves intimidated. Many have become afraid to speak up.

But the suppression of academic freedom is not the extent of the problem on America’s campuses.

To take Stanford, where I work, as an example, some professors have resorted to toxic smears in opinion pieces and organized rebukes aimed at those of us who criticized the failed health policies of the past year and who dared to serve our country under a president they despised — the latter apparently being the ultimate transgression.

Defamatory attacks with malicious intent based on straw-man arguments and out-of-context distortions are not acceptable in American society, let alone in our universities. There has been an attempt to intimidate and discredit me using falsifications and misrepresentations. This violates Stanford’s Code of Conduct, damages the Stanford name, and abuses the trust that parents and society place in educators.

It is understandable that most Stanford professors are not experts in the field of health policy and are ignorant of the data about the COVID pandemic. But that does not excuse the fact that some called recommendations that I made “falsehoods and misrepresentations of science.” That was a lie, and no matter how often lies are repeated by politically-driven accusers, and regardless of how often those lies are echoed in biased media, lies will never be true.

We all must pray to God that the infamous claim attributed to Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels — “A lie told once remains a lie, but a lie told a thousand times becomes the truth” — never becomes operative in the United States of America.

All of the policies I recommended to President Trump were designed to reduce both the spread of the virus to the most vulnerable and the economic, health, and social harms of anti-COVID policies for those impacted the most — small businesses, the working class, and the poor. I was one of the first to push for increasing protections for those most at risk, particularly the elderly. At the same time, almost a year ago, I recognized that we must also consider the enormous harms to physical and mental health, as well as the deaths attributable to the draconian policies implemented to contain the infection. That is the goal of public health policy — to minimize all harms, not simply to stop a virus at all costs.

The claim in a recent Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) opinion piece by three Stanford professors that “nearly all public health experts were concerned that [Scott Atlas’s] recommendations could lead to tens of thousands (or more) of unnecessary deaths in the U.S. alone” is patently false and absurd on its face. As pointed out by Dr. Joel Zinberg in National Review, the Great Barrington Declaration — a proposal co-authored by medical scientists and epidemiologists from Stanford, Harvard, and Oxford — “is closer to the one condemned in the JAMA article than anything Atlas said.” Yet the Great Barrington Declaration has already been signed by over 50,000 medical and public health practitioners.

When critics display such ignorance about the scope of views held by experts, it exposes their bias and disqualifies their authority on these issues. Indeed, it is almost beyond parody that these same critics wrote that “professionalism demands honesty about what [experts] know and do not know.”

I have explained the fact that younger people have little risk from this infection, and I have explained the biological fact of herd immunity — just like Harvard epidemiologist Katherine Yih did. That is very different from proposing that people be deliberately exposed and infected — which I have never suggested, although I have been accused of doing so.

I have also been accused of “argu[ing] that many public health orders aimed at increasing social distancing could be forgone without ill effects.” To the contrary, I have repeatedly called for mitigation measures, including extra sanitization, social distancing, masks, group limits, testing, and other increased protections to limit the spread and damage from the coronavirus. I explicitly called for augmenting protection of those at risk—in dozens of on-the-record presentations, interviews, and written pieces.

My accusers have ignored my explicit, emphatic public denials about supporting the spread of the infection unchecked to achieve herd immunity — denials quoted widely in the media. Perhaps this is because my views are not the real object of their criticism. Perhaps it is because their true motive is to “cancel” anyone who accepted the call to serve America in the Trump administration.

For many months, I have been vilified after calling for opening in-person schools — in line with Harvard Professors Martin Kulldorf and Katherine Yih and Stanford Professor Jay Bhattacharya — but my policy recommendation has been corroborated repeatedly by the literature. The compelling case to open schools is now admitted even in publications like The Atlantic, which has noted: “Research from around the world has, since the beginning of the pandemic, indicated that people under 18, and especially younger kids, are less susceptible to infection, less likely to experience severe symptoms, and far less likely to be hospitalized or die.” The subhead of the article was even clearer: “We’ve known for months that young children are less susceptible to serious infection and less likely to transmit the coronavirus.”

When the JAMA accusers wrote that I “disputed the need for masks,” they misrepresented my words. My advice on mask usage has been consistent: “Wear a mask when you cannot socially distance.” At the time, this matched the published recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO). This past December, the WHO modified its recommendation: “In areas where the virus is circulating, masks should be worn when you’re in crowded settings, where you can’t be at least one meter [roughly three feet] from others, and in rooms with poor or unknown ventilation”—in other words, not at all times by everyone. This also matches the recommendation of the National Institutes of Health document Prevention and Prophylaxis of SARS-CoV-2 Infection: “When consistent distancing is not possible, face coverings may further reduce the spread of infectious droplets from individuals with SARS-CoV-2 infection to others.”

Regarding universal masks, 38 states have implemented mask mandates, most of them since at least the summer, with almost all the rest having mandates in their major cities. Widespread, general population mask usage has shown little empirical utility in terms of preventing cases, even though citing or describing evidence against their utility has been censored. Denmark also performed a randomized controlled study that showed that widespread mask usage had only minimal impact.

This is the reality.
Those who insist that universal mask usage has absolutely proven effective at controlling the spread of the COVID virus and is universally recommended according to “the science” are deliberately ignoring the evidence to the contrary. It is they who are propagating false and misleading information.

Those who say it is unethical, even dangerous, to question broad population mask mandates must also explain why many top infectious disease scientists and public health organizations question the efficacy of general population masking. Tom Jefferson and Carl Heneghan of the University of Oxford’s Centre for Evidence-Based Medicine, for instance, wrote that “despite two decades of pandemic preparedness, there is considerable uncertainty as to the value of wearing masks.” Oxford epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta says there is no need for masks unless one is elderly or high risk. Stanford’s Jay Bhattacharya has said that “mask mandates are not supported by the scientific data. . . . There is no scientific evidence that mask mandates work to slow the spread of the disease.”

Throughout this pandemic, the WHO’s “Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19” has included the following statement: “At present, there is no direct evidence (from studies on COVID-19 and in healthy people in the community) on the effectiveness of universal masking of healthy people in the community to prevent infection with respiratory viruses, including COVID-19.” The CDC, in a review of influenza pandemics in May 2020, “did not find evidence that surgical-type face masks are effective in reducing laboratory-confirmed influenza transmission, either when worn by infected persons (source control) or by persons in the general community to reduce their susceptibility.” And until the WHO removed it on October 21, 2020 — soon after Twitter censored a tweet of mine highlighting the quote — the WHO had published the fact that “the widespread use of masks by healthy people in the community setting is not yet supported by high quality or direct scientific evidence and there are potential benefits and harms to consider.”

My advice on masks all along has been based on scientific data and matched the advice of many of the top scientists and public health organizations throughout the world.

The Politicization of the Search For Truth
At this point, one could make a reasonable case that those who continue to push societal restrictions without acknowledging their failures and the serious harms they caused are themselves putting forth dangerous misinformation. Despite that, I will not call for their official rebuke or punishment. I will not try to cancel them. I will not try to extinguish their opinions. And I will not lie to distort their words and defame them. To do so would repeat the shameful stifling of discourse that is critical to educating the public and arriving at the scientific truths we desperately need.

If this shameful behavior continues, university mottos like Harvard’s “Truth, Stanford’s “The Winds of Freedom Blow,” and Yale’s “Light and Truth” will need major revision.

Big Tech has piled on with its own heavy hand to help eliminate discussion of conflicting evidence. Without permitting open debate and admission of errors, we might never be able to respond effectively to any future crisis. Indeed, open debate should be more than permitted — it should be encouraged.

As a health policy scholar for over 15 years and as a professor at elite universities for 30 years, I am shocked and dismayed that so many faculty members at these universities are now dangerously intolerant of opinions contrary to their favored narrative. Some even go further, distorting and misrepresenting words to delegitimize and even punish those of us willing to serve the country in the administration of a president they loathe. It is their own behavior, to quote the Stanford professors who have attacked me, that “violates the core values of [Stanford] faculty and the expectations under the Stanford Code of Conduct, which states that we all ‘are responsible for sustaining the high ethical standards of this institution.’” In addition to violating standards of ethical behavior among colleagues, this behavior falls short of simple human decency.

If academic leaders fail to renounce such unethical conduct, increasing numbers of academics will be unwilling to serve their country in contentious times. As educators, as parents, as fellow citizens, that would be the worst possible legacy to leave to our children.

I also fear that the idea of science as a search for truth — a search utilizing the empirical scientific method — has been seriously damaged. Even the world’s leading scientific journals — The Lancet, New England Journal of Medicine, Science, and Nature — have been contaminated by politics. What is more concerning, many in the public and in the scientific community have become fatigued by the arguments — and fatigue will allow fallacy to triumph over truth.

With social media acting as the arbiter of allowable discussion, and with continued censorship and cancellation of those with views challenging the “accepted narrative,” the United States is on the verge of losing its cherished freedoms. It is not at all clear whether our democratic republic will survive — but it is clear it will not survive unless more people begin to step up in defense of freedom of thought and speech.
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2021-03-09 Dr. Scott AtlasScott W. Atlas is the Robert Wesson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He previously served for 14 years as professor and chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University Medical Center. He earned his B.S. from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and his M.D. from the University of Chicago School of Medicine. An ad hoc member of the Nominating Committee for the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology, he was a senior health care advisor to a number of presidential candidates in 2008, 2012, and 2016. From July to December 2020, he served as Special Advisor to President Trump and as a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force. He is the editor of Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain and Spine, now in its fifth edition, and is the author of several books, including Restoring Quality Health Care.