US President Donald Trump (L) listens to White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Scott Atlas speak during a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on September 23, 2020, in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images
This article originally appeared here on Salon.com
Scott Atlas, one of President Trump’s special coronavirus advisers and a faculty member at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution in Palo Alto, Calif., is causing a minor fracas among students and faculty at the elite university. Specifically, Atlas’ recommendations on coronavirus public health measures fly in the face of scientific consensus, faculty says — a charge that Atlas denies, and which he has threatened litigation over.
During a Faculty Senate meeting at Stanford University late last month, the college’s president and provost were asked whether Dr. Scott Atlas should face university sanctions for positions he has taken about the novel coronavirus pandemic that go against the scientific consensus. (As the faculty noted, Atlas is a neuroradiologist, not an epidemiologist or a scholar of infectious disease.) At the meeting, similar questions were raised about the university’s relationship with the Hoover Institution, where Atlas is a senior fellow. The Hoover Institution is a conservative think tank located on Stanford’s campus that has supported a laundry list of prominent right-wing statesmen over the years, from Condoleezza Rice to Reagan Secretary of State George Shultz.
Unsurprisingly given the politics of his employer, Atlas’ public statements tend to delight conservatives and alarm scientists who study public health and infectious diseases. Atlas recently tweeted that masks do not work to prevent infection (an unsupported claim, and one which Twitter wound up taking down for being misleading); previously, he claimed publicly that the threat of the coronavirus is greatly exaggerated. Atlas also claimed that summer civil rights protests were to blame for coronavirus outbreaks, as well as proximity to the U.S.-Mexico border, two more claims for which there is no evidence.
Despite being described by Trump as “one of the great experts of the world,” Atlas is reported to not have expertise in infectious disease mitigation or public health. Most recently, Atlas raised eyebrows last week for appearing on Russian state broadcaster RT, which is registered with the Justice Department as an agent of the Russian government.
David Spiegel, a medicine professor and associate chair of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, claimed during the late October meeting (which occurred before the RT interview) that Atlas is the “latest member of the Hoover Institution to disseminate incorrect and unscientific information about the coronavirus pandemic,” according to Stanford News. He also accused Atlas of violating the American Medical Association’s Code of Ethics and claimed that he may have additionally violated Stanford’s Code of Conduct.
University President Marc Tessier-Lavigne responded by citing the college’s Statement on Academic Freedom, although the provost acknowledged the validity of engineering professor Stephen Monismith’s concern about a New York Times report that some of Trump’s senior economic advisers had