Covid-19 and the new merchants of doubt - 2021-09-13
On 9 April 2021, Open Democracy reported that Oxford University professor Sunetra Gupta, a critic of public health measures to curb covid-19 and a proponent of "natural herd immunity," had "received almost £90,000 from the Georg and Emily von Opel Foundation." The foundation was named after its founder, Georg von Opel who is the great-grandson of Adam Opel, founder of the German car manufacturer. Georg von Opel is a Conservative party donor with a net worth of $2 billion. "Gupta's arguments against lockdowns—and in favour of 'herd immunity,'" the report further noted, "have found favour…in the British government."
This is not the first time billionaires aligned with industry have funded proponents of "herd immunity." Gupta, along with Harvard University's Martin Kulldorff and Stanford University's Jay Bhattacharya, wrote the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD), which, in essence, argues that covid-19 should be allowed to spread unchecked through the young and healthy, while keeping those at high risk safe through "focused protection," which is never clearly defined. This declaration was sponsored by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), a libertarian, climate-denialist, free market think tank that receives "a large bulk of its funding from its own investment activities, not least in fossil fuels, energy utilities, tobacco, technology and consumer goods." The AIER's American Investment Services Inc. runs a private fund that is valued at $284,492,000, with holdings in a wide range of fossil fuel companies (e.g. Chevron, ExxonMobil) and in the tobacco giant Philip Morris International. The AIER is also part of "a network of organizations funded by Charles Koch—a right-wing billionaire known for promoting climate change denial and opposing regulations on business" and who opposes public health measures to curb the spread of covid-19.
Prominent AIER fellows have run afoul of social media for opposing such measures. For example, Naomi Wolf, the AIER's Senior Visiting Fellow, was recently suspended from Twitter (where she had over 140,000 followers) after using her platform to spread anti-vaccine misinformation. For example, she tweeted that vaccines were a "software platform that can receive uploads"; she wrote that vaccines "let you travel back in time"; she argued that the urine and feces of vaccinated people should be separated from society; and she compared Anthony Fauci to Satan.