Investigations conducted by The Byline Times have revealed that the Great Barrington Declaration, a website objecting to coronavirus social restrictions and purporting to have the backing of ‘thousands of scientists’—including numerous Icelanders—is sponsored by an institution that is a part of the Koch network, and may be engaging in astroturfing, i.e., giving the illusion of a broader base of support than actually exists.
The Byline Times details that the declaration began with an event hosted by the American Institute for Economic Research (AIER), a libertarian think-tank based in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. There, a private gathering sought to discuss responses to the coronavirus pandemic. Amongst the attendees was Oxford University epidemiologist Professor Sunetra Gupta, a staunch advocate of the ‘herd immunity’ strategy in fighting the virus. The Great Barrington Declaration was drafted in part by Gupta.
The Byline Times writes:
Corporate records filed with the US Internal Revenue Service (IRS) confirm that the AIER operates as part of a Koch-funded network of climate science deniers who see environmental regulation as a threat to its vision of unfettered, deregulated markets.
The latest available IRS documents reveal that in 2018, the AIER received $68,100 for “General Operating Support” from the Charles Koch Foundation, which acts on behalf of right-wing billionaire Charles Koch.
Furthermore, while the website purports to have the backing of “thousands of scientists”, boasting some 5,000 ‘Medical & Public Health Scientists’ and 11,267 ‘Medical Practitioners’, there appears to be no vetting process for who can sign the declaration, nor any independent verification that signatories are who they say they are.
[W]hen I attempted to check how the signatory process works, I discovered that there was no vetting procedure in place for signatories – anybody could become a confirmed signatory of the Declaration and be categorised as a scientist or medic by falsifying entry information and ticking a box. By experimenting with the process myself, I was able to add myself as a signatory under the ‘Medical & Public Health Scientists’ category and received an automated email confirming this.
Jeffrey A. Tucker, AIER’s editorial director, responded on Twitter claiming that: “Actually admins have been beating back fraudsters from the beginning. It’s not easy to manage a website with millions of views ongoing, plus dealing with trolls.”
But when I asked him exactly how AIER was “checking and vetting signatories” and whether they were contacting people to verify their claimed identities and scientific credentials, he failed to respond.
In fact, the AIER has engaged in a great deal of activities that remain undisclosed on the Declaration’s website. For example, the AIER owns American Investment Services Inc., which in turn runs a private fund valued at over $280 million USD.
“The most recent SEC document filed in August reveals that the fund’s holdings include a wide range of companies including: Chevron, ExxonMobil, General Electric, One Gas Inc, Duke Energy Corp, Northwestern Corp, WEC Energy, Xcel Energy, tobacco giant Philip Morris International, JP Morgan Chase, Visa Inc., Mastercard, Alphabet Inc (the owner of Google), Microsoft, McDonalds, Verizon Communications, Intel Corp, Nike Inc, consumer goods giant Procter and Gamble, Host Hotels & Resorts, Dow Inc., Pepsico, the major stock market advisors Vanguard Group, and many more,” the Byline Times writes.
All this being the case, investigator Nafeez Ahmed concludes, “Whether or not the scientists involved are honest or accomplished, they have serious questions to answer about the genuine scientific integrity of this Declaration.”
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