“When we saw their statistics and their projections, and the needs that they projected in the States, and the types of deaths they projected even early on and how you could see that they were wrong, right away we knew we were dealing with a very, very different beast. They had no concern for science or accuracy. It was all about the panic,” said Justin Hart, author of “Gone Viral: How COVID Drove the World Insane.”
“When the threat of mortality comes down from so many avenues, over every medium, over every channel … everyone is telling you: ‘You’re going to die if you don’t take these interventions that we recommend,’ it does crazy things to society.”
Hart realized early on in the pandemic that what people were hearing from health agencies and the media didn’t match up with the data, so he started RationalGround.com to provide the public with reasoned evidence and fact-based analysis about the impact of COVID-19.
“We know from inner workings that Vivek Murthy and Jen Psaki of the White House—they were personally working with Facebook and Twitter to [get what] they wanted taken down,” says Hart.
Hart discusses the fallout from the pandemic, from child suicides to economic devastation to government censorship and surveillance. We also look at the recently released Cochrane mask study and what the data shows.
“From all of the studies they reviewed, especially towards masking, they found there was no significant evidence whatsoever that masking would stop a viral pathogen,” says Hart.
Justin Hart, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.
Jan, thanks for having me on. I’m glad to be here.
Justin, I’ve really enjoyed visiting your website over the last few years, Rational Ground. I always found it to be a place where I knew I could get some new information that was heavily backed by data, and this has been a little bit difficult over the last while.
We launched that website in the summer of 2020. Before then, we were posting on our own blogs or a lot on Twitter. But, all of a sudden, the waves started coming again, and we realized that the policies they had implemented early in the pandemic weren’t going away anytime soon.
And so, we pulled together a group of folks, kind of like a Battlestar Galactica group of ragtag experts, analysts, moms, and dads.
We put together Rational Ground as a response to the stringent policies that we’re still enacting and that are harming ourselves and especially our kids. As the fall year of the school year came about 2020, we realized that we were going to have to get organized and really have a strong response. I’m glad you enjoyed that, but we definitely pulled together some yeoman’s work to make that happen.
I also just recently finished reading your book, which traces some of the work you did in Rational Ground and some of the things you discovered along the way. You basically dedicate a chapter to a policy or a chapter to an issue; quick chapters, quick summaries, I like that. But when you come out the other end of this book, you realize, “My goodness, did anything work? Was anything successful?”
It reminded me of a tweet I put out back in October of ’21, and I’ll just read it to you, and I want to get your reaction. “It just struck me: we’re witnessing, in real-time, the spectacular, accelerating failure of the ‘governance by expert class model,’ its follies laid bare daily, even as its proponents double down on touting its benevolent inevitability. And it also struck me: in this lies hope.”
That’s really insightful. What happens is there’s the science. “This is what science tells us.” But as soon as it gets inserted into public policy, all bets are off. Things become a little bit wacky. The impacts that people projected they have no idea about. But I think you’re right. I say at the outset in my book, I say, “I’m not a healthcare expert. I don’t pretend to be one.”
And I say, “I normally wouldn’t insert myself into someone else’s domain.” But, Jan, they had no problem inserting themselves into my domain, my kid’s education, my healthcare, my barber shop. And so, I hope they will forgive me if I check the math, because that’s sort of my forte.
And when we checked the math, we realized it was completely off and that they were based on these very rigorous, stringent policies like stay-at-home orders and quarantining healthy people. We said, “Something is absolutely amiss here. We’ve got our policy really wacky.” When the experts in a particular domain like science prove themselves to be real follies in the expertise around public policy, that’s when disaster ensues.
There’s also this very interesting nuance. Sometimes you can have an expert, and that expert is an expert in a very, very specific field. And maybe they really are an expert. But to have that expert crafting the public health policy overall would be kind of insane, because how could they possibly know? That is not their job. Their job hasn’t been to try to integrate all of the science with the social outcomes that are likely to result from certain types of policy.
Yes. You think about masks, for example. That’s always a touchpoint of great contention over the last three years. But even if masks were 100 per cent effective—flashback, breaking news, they are not—even if they were, it’s unclear whether mandating that for an entire public is the right policy in general. When you put these mandates that infringe on people’s individual rights, you’re typically breaking something, and when you break something, it’s hard to earn it back.
I think that panic and the threat of mortality were bludgeons that our health overlords, as I sometimes call them, used against the populace to get their way. They really do. If I think about it, I often tell my team, “Put them in the best light. What is their best intention? What is the best interpretation that you have of this thing?” Maybe their implementations, these policies that they nailed down on top of us, maybe they really did think they were going to help.
But, in the end, you have to go with the evidence, and you always have to stick with your rights. If you see the government coming after you with a bludgeon and they’re coming first to take away your rights, if you stick your neck out against that, you can’t go wrong. You’ll probably end up on the right side of the equation.
I definitely want to talk about this new Cochrane mask study, this meta-study of 78 different studies. I know you’ve been talking about it, and it settles the science much better than anything up to now. We’re going to talk about that.
But before we go there, I want to go back to this thing that I was observing back in October of ’21. All of these policies are failures, and it’s almost unbelievable. We could go through your book chapter by chapter because it’s basically policy by policy. But which 10 come to your mind?
We can go sequentially. First of all, they got the transmission of the disease wrong. They felt that it was primarily coming over droplets, that it was coming over a specific set of all people. We now know that it’s likely a very aerosolized disease. They got that wrong. You then go on to their projections around mortality.
At one point, the WHO predicted that this was going to be a mortality where three out of a hundred people would die. Dr. Fauci got in front of Congress and he mixed-up terms around the fatality rate of people that actually test positive for COVID and are sick and those that have it and have no idea. He predicted that one out of a hundred people would die.
The flu has a mortality of 0.1 per cent.
Sure. This has a mortality of 10 times that.
We now know it’s a factor lower than that. In fact, for the vast majority of people, 85 per cent of the country under the age of 65, their mortality, that is, their risk of dying, is lower than that of influenza. Meaning that they’re more likely to die if they catch the flu. Now, when we go onto the next part, they predicted that we were going to have massive overruns on hospitals, and stagnation of people getting pitched there at the ER. Our ERs are still down today.
In fact, hospitals are struggling to retain any sort of economic viability because people are still scared to go there. The impacts on that are paramount. Then you think about the silly things they implemented, like plexiglass. They implemented that countrywide. Every single 7-Eleven, even your schools, turned into what looked like a bank teller with this bulletproof glass in front of them.
It was disconcerting. It was disorienting. And it turns out it was completely useless. The CDC came out and very quietly removed that recommendation for retail and for schools in March of ’21. Not a lot of people know that because they realized, “Oh, this is actually preventing a lot of airflow, and it’s also another place you have to clean.”
You go on to the next intervention, perhaps the most stringent being the stay-at-home orders, the lockdowns, and the closing of businesses. Our first clues that something was wrong were from oncologists who called us and said, “Either COVID has cured cancer or something else is happening here altogether,” because they were seeing half as many patients in the spring of 2020 as they were the year before.
It was not because people weren’t getting cancer. They were. They were just too scared to go out and seek treatment. The impact of that, we’re still feeling, and we’ll see that trickle in here now for years as people discover late-stage cancers that they could have caught early on.
So, it wasn’t necessarily just treatment. It was also just checking to see if you had prostate cancer, for example.
Exactly. Those regular checkups. Even 50 per cent of young infants and children missed immunizations over that time, because a lot of primary care physicians had closed down their shops except for emergency issues. The list goes on and on. The quarantining of children for the slightest exposure was perhaps the most damaging of the policies that they implemented. Almost everyone agrees that that was wrong.
While most of the schools were closed down in the spring of 2020, when we came back to school in the fall of ’20 and then the winter of ’21, and then through the next year, the big issue became exposure to COVID. In fact, I would say that the fall and winter of the ’21/22 school season was far more frustrating and just dreadful for families than it was from earlier times because, at that point, there was a policy implemented almost across the nation that if your kid had the slightest exposure to anyone that had a positive case, they would have to stay home for 10 days.
This is what made it personal for me. I’ve got eight kids. I’ve got a Brady Bunch family, and we have three kids that are under the age of five. From the time that Thanksgiving came around in 2021, we had kids at home for the entire rest of the year missing school, not because they were sick, but because some student had a positive test that came back, and the entire classroom had to go home for 10 days. A dreadful experience.
I just want to remind our viewers, because I was actually just speaking with an Uber driver about this earlier today. Unlike influenza, COVID or coronavirus or CCP virus, as we call it at Epoch Times, has a very interesting characteristic, which is that children don’t transmit it, and they also are at extremely low risk from it. In fact, at some of the low ages, it’s statistically zero. It’s just unbelievable that these interventions, which obviously are going to have an impact, happen in this type of a context.
And it would have this great psychological effect on kids. One in five children came up with ideations of suicide, especially young women. You think about just the years of education that got lost. Look, Jan, you and I were adults when policies and politics got inserted into our lives. We try to deal with it. Hopefully, we’ll bring it to the ballot box the next time it comes around. Our kids don’t have that luxury. They also don’t get those years back.
I was over at a friend’s house, and he’s talking about the impact on kids. His child, who was then in second grade, was coloring a target type of coupon book, and there were all these pictures of kids and everything else. And he was dutifully taking a marker and putting a mask on all of the kids’ faces because he thought that’s how they should be. The psychological impact on our kids thinking that they’re a vector of disease when, as you pointed out, there’s really very little evidence of that. In fact, there’s a lot of evidence that they become a brake on the disease.
It’s astounding what sort of clawback we’re going to have to do with these kids. The results are in. We’re seeing with the mass studies that the mass scores have gone back now by a decade as far as the improvements that we used to see. I talked to our preschool teachers where we had our kids. They’re now in kindergarten. They’re seeing rampage rages of biting because kids didn’t learn those key social cues due to their faces being masked. Also, consider this. We believe from two studies that were done that we probably missed about 250,000 cases, Jan, of potential domestic abuse, child abuse, and spousal abuse.
Why? Because it’s typically sharp-eyed teachers and administrators who catch those things and call those out, and kids weren’t in school. And then, when kids get back into school, how many bruises on mom’s face did we miss because masks were required at drop off? Those are things where you don’t think about the impacts, but those are very real and very lasting.
Scott Atlas, when I first met him, was saying, “It’s unforgivable that, as a society, we use children as shields for adults,” and I could never shake that thought.
It really is devastating. Our team was fortunate enough, and this is where we kind of got our claim to fame later, we were the main support team for Scott Atlas when he was at the White House. We were approached by several of his colleagues at Stanford, saying, “Scott needs some help here. What can you do?” Pro bono, every morning from July of 2020 to the end of that year, we would get calls from Scott, we would get texts from him, and the team would go to work. “He’s going to St. Louis. He needs to know what are the excess death rates there? What are you seeing, as far as cases are going?”
He had very little support. Whereas the stalwarts, who had entire teams, like Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, were producing massive documents every day. We tried to meet that. Eventually, our charts would make it to the presses, where President Trump would laude them, and Scott Atlas would handle the press there. We were very proud of the work we did there. But you can talk to Scott, and you realize just the complete surprise he had at the lack of quality and the lack of real prowess there was at the White House.
To put it bluntly, I had a conversation with Scott one time, and again, I was trying to find the best interpretation. What’s the kindest interpretation I could find for why Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx aren’t turning the ship around? Scott had been completely successful in decimating the instigations of the lockdowns and school closures. Why aren’t they changing policies as we get closer and closer to that vital election? I said, “Scott, maybe they’re just having trouble saving face.” That was my interpretation.
He said, “No, Justin. You need to know these people, unfortunately, are not smart. Some of them are dumb.” I’m like, “Oh, no.” It really is the case that while these people have been experts in their field, they probably are behind the ball on the latest information, especially when it comes out so quickly and when their policy implications are so vast. So, that was a really eye-opening experience that both Scott and our team had.
Let’s jump to this Cochrane mask study. What does this study tell us?
Seriously, it’s been a very contentious issue. It’s because it’s the most recognizable, and it impacted almost everybody everywhere, especially when they had to wear it for a long time.
You talk about, in the book, how masks essentially became talismans like a type of virtue signaling tool.
Right. In fact, all the evidence leading up to the pandemic, up to 2020, showed no efficacy whatsoever for these masks. Even with the high-quality N95 masks in a healthcare setting, there was no stringent evidence showing that they provided any benefit as far as curbing respiratory viral pathogens. When we got to the pandemic, we went through all of these pieces.
The Cochrane report came out in early 2020 and did a review of about 10 to 12 of these things. Now, they’ve expanded that in the last few weeks to include about 78 different studies. We’re looking at interventions like masks, washing of hands, and physical distancing.
From all of the studies they reviewed, especially around masking, they found there was no significant evidence whatsoever that masking would stop viral pathogens and curb that sort of thing. In fact, they found just the opposite. That the interventions were oftentimes very hard for people to implement.
Here’s a headline. This is in the Santa Barbara News. “Masks are the chief ally of the disease. The masks become a veritable incubator of bacteria.” That was written in 1918. We knew a hundred years ago, when they tried to implement masking to stop the Spanish flu, that they didn’t work as a policy implementation. We’ve just forgotten the past. We’ve tried it again and again.
It’s understandable why it was there. Even the author of the Cochrane Times, Tom Jefferson, admits that. This became basically some type of SOP [Standard Operating Procedure], some type of gimme to these politicians who wanted a tool that they could use and get up on the pulpit and say, “Cases are going up. You’re not masking hard enough. Oh, look, cases are going down. Thank you very much, folks, for masking.”
Because they felt helpless in the face of this very, very hard disease to stop spreading, they wanted to have tools at their disposal.
Masks became a scapegoat. A talisman, as actually one of the NIH reports put out. This report on masking came out and said, “There’s very little evidence that we could show that they help in a healthcare setting, but maybe they could work as a talisman.” I don’t want that in my scientific literature. I certainly don’t want them implemented as policies to mask my two-year-old and my five-year-old.
But they also became something like a political statement, bizarrely.
Yes, I suppose it’s an outward expression of an inward faith. It became a very strong virtue signal for people, especially for our young adults who were going to college. A generation ago, my parents, who went to college in the 60s, would have thumbed their noses at any type of government intervention that made them wear this mask.
But for our kids today, the kindest interpretation I have is that the risk of them of being captured on social media in the wrong place with the wrong implementations, not wearing a mask, not social distancing, that risk was far greater to their being than having to stick their neck out and go against the grain. That’s why people complied, it was an actual virtual signal.
It felt good to help other people. But again, once you implement a policy that is your requirement to do to help other people, even though you are not sick, there are serious ethical issues involved, and it does intimately disrupt those interactions we have with each other day to day.
You’re just reminding me of something you wrote in the book and I’ll quote it, “Fear of living life is with us now.” I had a guest on the show, Lenore Skenazy, who runs an organization called Let Grow. She observed that there is this very weird safetyism in our society where people always gravitate towards the side of safety, as opposed to the side of adventure. The point being that safetyism, that strange development, suddenly went on steroids in COVID. I’m not even sure how we will recover from this.
It’s going to be a different difficult path to claw back that normalness that we so crave. Politicians are very averse to anything that hints at mortality, at risking someone’s imminent demise. Even over in England, they’re having a trial right now concerning a couple of city streets, because they’ve had multiple injuries of people looking at their cell phone while walking down the street and running into poles and signposts because they’re not looking where they’re going.
Instead of curbing that and having people learn from their mistakes, they’re putting pads around the poles, so that people don’t harm themselves when they run into them. We all live in a padded cell. And in fact, if you weren’t an agoraphobe or if you were right on the cusp of that before the pandemic, you almost certainly are an agoraphobe now, and that’s not easy to win back. Because we rewarded that sort of virtue signaling so strongly, it became part of our society. Now, it’s going to take us a little bit to pawn that off there.
But this is nothing new. We can go back 400 years to a real plague, the one that took over Europe in the 1600s, The Plague, which would take one out of three lives. But the panic that ensued around that was pretty amazing as well. There’s an author from the 19th century, Alessandro Manzoni, who wrote The Betrothed, a book about two lovers trying to find their way in the time of plague in Milan. People were panicked back then, and he read through their journals. He uncovered some real journal entries from the 17th century.
An old man was in a church. It was rumored throughout the city that outside forces were coming in, and they were washing the walls with infected water and anointing the pews with this infected dirt as well so that it would spread the disease and take over the City of Milan. That was the fear induced by the rumor mill.
One gentleman is at the front of the pew at church, and someone sees him brushing off the pew and assumes that he was anointing the bench. He yells out, “He’s anointing the bench. He’s anointing the pew. He’s spreading the disease.” A crowd took the man outside, and the journal entry concludes, “I do not think he could have survived very much longer.”
We saw that panic on planes, in schools, at school boards, and in confrontations. When you instill that fear into society, crazy things happen. Manzoni mentions in his book, “The fear of the disease besought and took over the minds of the people more than any damage that the disease itself could have done.” That is true for this pandemic too.
There’s a journalist in the UK, Laura Dodsworth, who is able to document how so-called nudge units in the UK government were sowing fear into the population. We know, even through looking at the Twitter files and some of the work that has been done on the Missouri versus Biden case, that there’s censorship happening around certain types of material.
And on the other side, there’s the manufacturing of consensus happening around other ways of viewing the pandemic and what you should do in response. There was this fear, but it seems like this fear wasn’t entirely accidental. It wasn’t just necessarily a natural byproduct of people panicking.
In his book, Dr. Atlas talks about an incident where he had an encounter with Dr. Fauci in the hall, and he questioned him. He says, “Don’t you think people are scared enough?” Dr. Fauci replied, “No, they’re not nearly afraid enough.”
That is terrible public policy. Where I come from in San Diego, our local health director, the unelected Wilma Wooten, came to the pulpit at the end of 2021 and said, “You should just assume that everyone you meet has COVID and treat them as such.