Scott Atlas receives the Freedom Lead­ership Award from Hillsdale College Pres­ident Larry Arnn. Courtesy | Emily Davis

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.”