Earlier this month, as the Omicron variant began to spread, a small liberal arts school on a tree-lined campus in Michigan called Hillsdale College announced it was launching an Academy for Science and Freedom to “educate the American people about the free exchange of scientific ideas and the proper relationship between freedom and science in the pursuit of truth.”
The academy was inspired by the pandemic. “As we reflect on the worst public health fiasco in history, our pandemic response has unveiled serious issues with how science is administered,” noted the college president in a press release.
But the venture isn’t exactly an effort to apply science to the COVID-19 crisis. The so-called “fiasco” was government pandemic measures like mask and vaccine mandates, contact tracing, and lockdowns.
Hillsdale is a conservative Christian institution with ties to the Donald Trump administration. And the scholars behind the academy — Scott Atlas, Jay Bhattacharya, and Martin Kulldorff — are connected to right-wing dark money attacking public health measures.
The trio also has ties to the Great Barrington Declaration, a widely rebuked yet influential missive that encouraged governments to adopt a “herd immunity” policy letting COVID-19 spread largely unchecked, even as the virus has killed more than 800,000 Americans.
The academy is the newest initiative designed to provide intellectual cover to a nearly two-year campaign by right-wing and big business interests to force a return to normalcy to boost corporate profits amid a pandemic that is now surging once again thanks to Omicron.
That campaign’s most recent success came earlier this month when Senate Republicans and a handful of Democrats joined together to pass a symbolic measure to repeal a Joe Biden administration rule requiring large corporations to mandate vaccines or regular COVID tests for workers.
This is the story of how that corporate-bankrolled campaign originally started, and how it has continued to supplant public health experts and hijack the governmental response to the pandemic.