Banning Alex Berenson From Twitter Is a Mistake
Twitter has finally had enough of Alex Berenson, the former New York Times reporter who has spent the pandemic being extremely wrong about both the severity of the COVID-19 crisis and, more notably, the efficacy of vaccines. On Saturday, the social media site confirmed that it had permanently banned him for “repeated violations of our COVID-19 misinformation rules.”
There are good reasons to be troubled by this decision—even though Berenson is indeed a serial spewer of misinformation.
The pandemic has minted a new class of terribly misguided pundits, and Berenson is among the very worst of them. Early on, he vastly underestimated the eventual U.S. COVID-19 death toll. And while that’s a forgivable offense—official predictions ranged wildly, after all—Berenson has compounded his mistake by coming out swinging against vaccines. He has used his Twitter platform to peddle the absurd notion that vaccines might be causing severe illnesses and even deaths. He has suggested that countries with high vaccination rates are having just as bad a time as countries with low vaccination rates. And he has claimed that most people under the age of 70 probably don’t need to become vaccinated—even though the death toll for the under-70 crowd is well over 100,000. As The Atlantic‘s Derek Thompson noted in a conclusive takedown of Berenson—whom he quite reasonably dubs “the pandemic’s wrongest man”—these views are all nonsense.
Though COVID-19 has allowed Berenson to fully embrace his role as a purveyor of delusions, it should be noted that he was pushing unscientific nonsense before the pandemic. His 2019 book, Tell Your Children, attempted to scare readers into believing that consuming marijuana makes people crazy and violent. Reason‘s Jacob Sullum described it as “a work of logical leaps, self-contradiction, misleading glosses, selective quotation, biased evidence gathering, and tendentious interpretation.”
Berenson was never worthy of the public’s trust, yet his vocal opposition to various COVID-19 mitigation efforts—lockdowns, masking, etc.—has made him a hero to some conservatives. Sen. Ron Johnson (R–Wis.) called him a “courageous voice of reason” and “a valuable counter-perspective.” This flattery is undeserved. There are many “voices of reason” who have criticized unending lockdowns, school closures, regulatory hurdles, draconian missives from health officials, and excessive mask mandates without succumbing to anti-vaccine crankery. (For examples, read David Zweig, Nate Silver, Alec MacGillis, Emily Oster, Alex Tabarrok, and, of course, Reason.)
Berenson’s final tweet is a good example of said crankery:
While it’s true that the vaccines do not entirely prevent the transmission of the delta
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