Koch-Funded PR Agency Aided Great Barrington Declaration Sponsor
The company Emergent Order has provided extensive multimedia public relations support services to a network of climate science deniers bankrolled by the Charles Koch Foundation, Nafeez Ahmed reports
The organisation sponsoring the Great Barrington Declaration, which advocates a ‘herd immunity’ approach to the COVID-19 pandemic, has received PR support from an agency bankrolled by the Charles Koch Foundation to the tune of $1.4 million to support a range of climate science denial groups.
Documents seen by Byline Times reveal that the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER) – the libertarian, free market think tank in located in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, that has published the declaration created by Oxford University epidemiologist Professor Sunetra Gupta, Professor Martin Kulldorff of Harvard University and Stanford Fellow Jay Bhattacharya – has been given PR and marketing support from Emergent Order LLC, based in Austin, Texas.
The latest available corporate records filed with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) confirm that, in 2018, AIER paid $510,000 to Emergent Order for “marketing consulting services”. This included production of a viral YouTube video, ‘The March of History: Mises vs Marx – The Definitive Capitalism vs. Socialism Rap Battle’, which began production in May 2019 and was released in December.
But Emergent Order itself receives extensive Charles Koch Foundation funding. Its own IRS filings reveal that, since 2014, it has received a total of $1.4 million for “general operating support” from the foundation.
The Charles Koch Foundation has also funded AIER directly, giving the organisation $68,100 for “general operating support” in 2018.
John Papola, Emergent Order’s founder, denied that his firm was involved in the Great Barrington Declaration. He said: “I’m not aware of the Great Barrington Declaration, so I can’t comment on what that is other than to say that we have not participated in it as a firm.”
Climate Change Denial and Eroding Regulation
Emergent Order has provided extensive multimedia PR support services to a Koch-funded network of climate science deniers.
Its other clients include the Koch-backed Pacific Legal Foundation, which has attacked environmental and climate change regulation, and worked with the tobacco industry to undermine anti-smoking campaigns; the climate science-denying American Enterprise Institute, which has between 1997 and 2017 received $2.1 million from Koch foundations; and the Independent Institute, another climate science denial outfit backed by Koch and ExxonMobil.
The AIER also runs a network of ‘chapters’ through its Bastiat Society programme, which partners with leading right-wing think-tanks in receipt of Koch funding such as the Atlas Network – yet another climate science-denying group with direct connections to officials in the Donald Trump administration. Through this network, AIER also has direct connections with the ‘no deal Brexit’ lobby group, the Institute for Economic Affairs in London.
While a large bulk of AIER’s funds come from the profits of its investment arm, American Investment Services Inc (which operates a private fund valued at $284 million with holdings in oil, gas, tobacco and beyond), it also receives funding from other foundations behind some of the biggest climate science denial operations in America.
One of AIER’s recent donors is a Heartland Institute advisor who wants to minimise US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulations on experimental drugs and vaccines, bypassing rigorous health and safety testing.
In 2018, IRS filings reveal that AIER received a “general and unrestricted” $10,000 grant from the Bartley J. Madden Foundation – owned by Bartley J. Madden, a policy advisor at the Heartland Institute and mastermind of its ‘Free to Choose Medicine’ initiative.
The latter has recently campaigned to erode US FDA regulations, encouraging the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat COVID-19 – despite recent scientific findings suggesting that it “does not work”, is “actively harmful” and administering it would amount to “medical malpractice”.
Bartley Madden’s foundation is itself a major funder of the Heartland Institute, one of the world’s top climate science denial groups, having given the organisation $525,000 from 2016 to 2018. Heartland, too, has previously received funding from the Charles Koch Foundation.
Over the past decade, the Heartland Institute’s climate science denialism has received a new source of funding from the Mercer Family Foundation controlled by the pro-Trump billionaires Robert and Rebekah Mercer. They gave $800,000 to the Heartland Institute in 2017.
Sidelining Best Practice
Distinguished Oxford University epidemiologist Sunetra Gupta has described the Great Barrington Declaration as existing outside of politics. Yet, the network of financing behind its sponsor, the AIER, seems to demonstrate exactly the opposite.
The Declaration appears to subsist in a political lobbying network routinely involved in denying the risks to human health from powerful industries such as fossil fuels and tobacco.
It is not surprising then that the scientific content of the Declaration has been thoroughly challenged by many leading experts.
Among them is Professor Sir Robert Lechler, President of the Academy of Medical Sciences, a top immunologist and nephrologist at King’s College London, who has pointed out that the Great Barrington Declaration’s ‘Focused Protection’ proposal – based on shielding the elderly and vulnerable from COVID-19 and allowing the rest of society to continue as normal – is “simply not possible as there is no way to sustainably protect such a large group of people without imposing huge risks to their mental and physical health”. Even if it were possible, he has said, “this virus is in no way benign for the young and fit” and there has also been “an increase in cases of Long Covid, where people are suffering from persistent and enduring symptoms for months after COVID-19 infection”.
He points out that to get to herd immunity, around 70% of people would need to be infected with the Coronavirus – a prospect which would still result in vast numbers of death and which would not avoid an economic crisis.
Such immunity might not even be guaranteed because “we now know that immunity to COVID-19 decreases over time, and that people can be re-infected with the virus,” he added.
Professor Devi Sridhar, chair of global public health at the University of Edinburgh and a scientific advisor to the Scottish Government, has pointed out that the proponents of the Great Barrington Declaration completely ignore countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, New Zealand and China where daily life has largely returned to normal through a strategy of suppressing the virus and opening up the economy.
The Declaration appears to simply ignore the medical consensus on the best practice tools available to achieve this, which do not involve endless draconian lockdowns: robust testing, tracing and isolating policies, strict border checks and minimal restrictions.
Questions must be asked about the influence of a political ideology with a long history of interfering with science to protect vested interests.