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A top scientist questioned virus lockdowns on Fox News. The backlash was fierce.

By Peter Jamison
Dec. 16, 2020

The epidemiologist sitting before the cameras spoke with calm authority. It was late March, and as the coronavirus spread across the country, it came as no surprise that journalists were turning to John Ioannidis. The Stanford University medical professor was famous for his rigorous assessments — and frequent debunking — of disease treatments. He was a consummate physician-researcher, combining fluency in the mathematical models that predict a pathogen’s lines of attack with experience at the bedsides of patients suffering from AIDS.

The surprise came in what Ioannidis had to say. As many public health experts and government officials were urging people to stay home to avoid infection, he speculated that the coronavirus might be less dangerous than assumed. News media were overhyping the disease. The greater risk lay not in covid-19 but in overzealous lockdowns to prevent its spread.

“We’re falling into a trap of sensationalism,” Ioannidis told the documentary filmmakers interviewing him remotely on March 23 as he sat in a studio at Stanford. “We have gone into a complete panic state.”

The video would be viewed more than a half-million times on YouTube before it disappeared. Six weeks after it was uploaded, the footage of Ioannidis was removed by YouTube, which said the interview with one of the world’s foremost epidemiologists had violated its policies on covid-19 misinformation. Ioannidis — whose talks for TEDx, at Google and in university lecture halls have circulated online for years — said he was stunned. But he was hardly silenced.