With COVID back, censorship is back, and now it’s taken a particularly dangerous form, not just on social media, but on leading academic exchanges.
The huge Social Sciences Research Network (SSRN), run by Netherlands-based publishing house Elsevier, is not a site most people know about, but it is a behemoth in academia, extremely important to professors for getting their work out there and advancing within the academic community.
That’s where censorship on COVID is happening, which could have far-reaching consequences for public policy and the free exchange of ideas.
SSRN’s plain, bare-bones front page on its site describes itself this way:
Basically, SSRN is a gigantic library of all the respectable academic research out there, a Google of sorts for academia. Every academic paper worth its salt appears there. It’s the go-to site for all respectable academic working papers and the actual peer-reviewed published papers that follow from them, plus the reactions to the papers once the research is out there. Every assistant professor seeking a full professorship at universities follows this site closely.
With its near-monopoly status, either the government has coopted it, or it has slowly come to the realization that it can throw its weight around with politically motivated censorship.
So now we see some very odd censorship occurring there:
An important meta-study, or study of studies, on the efficacy of lockdowns worldwide, titled “A Literature Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Lockdowns on COVID-19 Mortality,” which was later published as a peer-reviewed book titled “Did Lockdowns Work? The Verdict on Covid Restrictions” by the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, was effectively censored by the SSRN, just as the government has been caught meddling in other kinds of censorship related to COVID, and is out talking up COVID again.
The authors of the meta-study were none other than academic heavyweights Steve H. Hanke, professor of applied economics and founder and co-director of the Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise at Johns Hopkins University, Lars Jonung, professor emeritus of economics at Lund University in Lund, Sweden, and Jonas Herby, special advisor for the Centre for Political Studies in Copenhagen. They began their research by following standard operating procedures: they published a detailed, nine-page protocol entitled “Protocol for ‘What Does the First XX Studies Tell Us about the Effects of Lockdowns on Mortality? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of COVID-19 Lockdowns’” on SSRN. After completing their research, Hanke, Jonung, and Herby published a first and second edition of their work as working papers in the Johns Hopkins “Studies in Applied Economics” series. Both editions were mysteriously stonewalled by SSRN. The researchers repeatedly received the following rejection notice from SSRN:
This all has the smell of censorship. First and foremost, SSRN had already published the researchers’ protocol. And, to add insult to injury, the SSRN had also published Nicolas Banholzer el al.’s critique of the researchers’ second edition of their working paper, a working paper which the SSRN refused to publish. Subsequently, Hanke, Jonung, and Herby published a Johns Hopkins “Studies in Applied Economics” working paper in reply to Banholzer et al.’s critique. The SSRN also refused to publish the Hanke-Jonung-Herby reply to Banholzer et al., again citing “the need to be cautious about posting medical content.”
Why was SSRN stonewalling the Hanke-Jonung-Herby meta-analysis on COVID? That’s because the researchers’ meta-analysis concluded that lockdowns only had a tiny impact on COVID mortality. For starters, Hanke, Jonung and Herby found that lockdowns only saved between 6,000 and 23,000 lives in Europe and between 4,000 and 16,000 lives in the United States. So, lockdowns prevented relatively few deaths compared to a typical flu season. In Europe 72,000 flu deaths occur and in the United States 38,000 flu deaths occur during a typical flu season. This stunning conclusion flew in the face of the establishment and officialdom. (Last June, I wrote about that here.)
On Feb. 2, 2022, the researchers’ meta-analysis was featured in a major story in Fortune Magazine. On the same day, its findings were also brought to life by Dr. Martin Makary, a professor of medicine at the famed Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, during his interview on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” That’s when Dr. Makary said that “Johns Hopkins itself did not even put out a press release about this study, and if you look at the media coverage, it’s one of the biggest stories in the world today, and yet certain media outlets have not even covered it.”
Two days later, the Hanke-Jonung-Herby meta-analysis made its way to the White House briefing room. When asked about “the Johns Hopkins study on lockdowns,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said, “I would note that the president has been clear we’re not pushing lockdowns; we’ve not been pro-lockdown. That has not been his agenda. Most of the lockdowns actually happened under the previous president.”
The next day, Dr. Makary weighed in again during an interview with Anita Vogel on “Fox Report” when he said, “Steve Hanke, who’s a professor at Johns Hopkins and a colleague of mine, is an outstanding researcher. He’s very senior and what he did was a very sophisticated mathematical analysis of all the existing scientific literature to really answer the [lockdowns] question.”
With this, the so-called “fact checkers” became busy as little bees with hit pieces on the meta-analysis. Then, a cone of silence shrouded the Johns Hopkins meta-analysis. Fortunately for Hanke, Jonung, and Herby, their research results have resurfaced in London after the publication of their peer-reviewed book in June.
But what about the SSRN? A gander at SSRN’s website shows many medical categories. Furthermore, it published the researchers’ protocol as well as a critique of the second edition of their working paper, but refused to publish both editions of their working paper, as well as their reply to Banholzer’s et al.’s critique, which had been published by the SSRN. This clearly smacks of censorship. There is no two ways about it.
Congress and the press should be investigating the daylights out of these events. Something creepy is happening on the academic censorship front. The proponents of lockdowns are getting ambitious again, while censoring the facts and science. This must stop, and fast.
This article was first published in American Thinker