Scott W. Atlas received Hillsdale College’s highest honor, the Freedom Leadership Award, at a National Leadership Seminar in Phoenix, Arizona on Feb. 18.
“We’ve given it to Ronald Reagan, and we’ve given it to Margaret Thatcher, and we’ve given it to Clarence Thomas,” Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn said at the event. “That means leadership, which takes courage toward freedom, which has a generosity to everyone it touches — and I’m proud to present it to Scott Atlas.”
Atlas, a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, is a signer of the Great Barrington Declaration, a petition written by epidemiologists that calls for alternative strategies in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and seeks to minimize the social and economic harm of lockdowns. His work was instrumental in the college’s decision to host its commencement ceremony in person last July.
“I am, of course, highly honored to be on the list of winners,” Atlas said in his acceptance speech. “Hillsdale’s National Leadership Seminar program was founded with a specific mission: ‘To foster enlightened leadership and inform decision making for America’s third century by communicating the fundamental principles of freedom and order on which western civilization is based.’ The pandemic has been a tragedy, no doubt, but it has exposed profound issues in America that now threaten those very principles of freedom and order that we Americans too often take for granted.”
In June 2020, former President Donald Trump selected Atlas to serve on the White House Coronavirus Task Force team, where Atlas was accused of spreading misinformation and propagating lies about the pandemic. But according to Victor Davis Hanson, senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, military historian, and visiting professor at Hillsdale, history will support Atlas’ conclusions.
“Dr. Atlas’s recommendations that have guided some of the former Trump administration’s reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic were always guided by science,” Hanson said in an email. “Contrary to hysterical attacks on his character and expertise, Atlas’s proposals often reflected the consensus of a number of brilliant Stanford Medical School immunologists, epidemiologists, and biologists who similarly had argued that the country could weather the virus with proper precautions but without shutting down the nation’s entire economy and incurring staggering human costs in greater missed medical procedures, increased suicides, and more spousal, family, and drug abuse.”
Atlas, a senior advisor of health care for three presidential campaigns and an advisor to several members of the U.S. House of Representatives, has faced criticism for speaking out against the harsh restrictions states have placed on citizens as a result of the pandemic.
“I was and I remained stunned and a little bit frightened at the acquiescence of the American people to these destructive, arbitrary, and wholly unscientific rules, restrictions, and mandates,” Atlas said. “This crisis also exposed what we have all known existed, but we tolerated, although I think Hillsdale didn’t tolerate it as much as everybody else. But the rest of the country tolerated, for years, the bias of the media, the suppression of academic freedom on campuses, the lack of neutrality in big tech, and now more obviously than ever, the politicization of science. Ultimately, the freedom to seek and state the truth is at risk here in the United States.”
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign and a master’s degree from the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago, Atlas served as a professor of radiology and chief of neuroradiology at Stanford University from 1998 to 2012. He is the author of several books, including “Reforming America’s Health Care System.”
Thomas West, the Paul Ermine Potter and Dawn Tibbetts Potter endowed professor in politics, said he first became familiar with Atlas during Atlas’ time as a COVID-19 advisor in the Trump administration.
“I was impressed by his public statements on COVID-19,” West said. “He is one of a small band of scientists who is really trying to follow the evidence on COVID-19. I admire two things especially about him: first, his strong dedication to real scientific inquiry as opposed to submitting to the media-driven consensus, and second, his courage in standing up against the united forces of the politicians, the media, the professoriate, and the medical bureaucracy.”
One of four epidemiologists contracted to advise the college’s 2020 in-person commencement ceremony, Atlas was the “toughest of them all,” Arnn said.
According to Arnn, every great thing in human history is done by somebody who does it by love, and Atlas is no exception.
“He’s a cause for optimism,” Arnn said. “I didn’t know him before this came up, and so that means that I, and all of us, every one of us, has discovered a brave and brilliant man. The only correct conclusion to draw from that is that there must be more — and we are stronger by knowing him.”